Category Archives: Steins;Gate

Mid-Summer Review, 2011

When the humidity is high and the  sun is making waves on steaming pavements, do you want to watch an anime like Aria, where the same is sometimes protrayed, or do you want to watch something from the deep freeze, like a scene from Spriggan? I don’t know, and it’s not like I’m getting either this summer.

So, a list of stuff I’m kind of watching.

I’m still keeping pace with No. 6. I want to start this post about No. 6 out because those … homoerotic gazes kind of bothers me when it’s put at the fore, so let’s put that to the fore. Those scenes bother me in the sense that “wait, there’s this long pause in which I am suppose to be feeling some kind of tension between the two male protagonists, but what kind of tension is it? Why is this pause here?” It kicks me out of the mind set in which I’m following this mystery about killer bee things, which is probably the main draw for the show. At least for non-fujoshi types. On a normal, sunny day, I typically like to think critically anyways. But when the show gives me a chance to–scratch that, more like when it invites criticism, I can’t help but to think in the negative. It isn’t necessarily a “wrong” on the show’s behalf, but that’s just how I roll. Some anime invite you to introspect, to reflect and consider what is happening in the story from a third-party perspective. Others invite you to take part in the action, to get the audience wrapped up in the narrative. There’s nothing special or good or bad about either approach. But sometimes the beams cross, so to speak. In the game of Magicka, it usually means an explosive, suicidal death. Thankfully anime is not some European-made exercise at self-infliction of pain.

I bring up Magicka because it is a game sold on its solid gimmicks. Gimmicks can be solid. I think this is why I still like R-15 a lot, half way through. The gimmicks, compared to, say, Yuruyuri, are random as hell and yet somewhat organic. It’s kind of like Xavier’s School for the Gifted; you have a bunch of kids who have some kind of special powers. Except by “power” we don’t mean cool mutant powers, but “the most random, most Japanese crap-anime plot generator” you can think of. Some of these “powers” are really creative; in order to top some of these, I have to go to fanfiction. And we typically don’t want to go there.

It’s easy to point to some show and say it is more organic than Yuruyuri. Because Yuruyuri is very…inorganic. I don’t know why and how, it just feels very stale in terms of its timing? Direction? Animation generally? I can’t quite put my finger on it. The writing works pretty okay with whatever that I feel that is stale, and once we can begin to tolerate the main characters, the jokes come alive. I think that might just be the strength of the writing to a degree. I don’t think the staleness is particularly a bad thing, it just makes it difficult to form a good first impression. When done right, staleness gives a show a unique flavor. Sometimes stale bread tastes good too!

Speaking of stale bread, Yune has the cutest scene with stale bread possibly in the history of anime. I mean, it isn’t something that comes into play on a regular basis. Croisee is a sharp anime, but it feels a little bit, shall we say, out of the water? It’s missing something, something big, that pushes the enjoyment level over the edge to the next level. For Aria, it was how it channels the mono no aware stuff, for example. As is, Croisee is just a cute and well-executed show.

That’s also what I’m going to say about Ro-Kyu-Bu. It’s just somehow one gets you branded as a lolicon and the other doesn’t, when in reality they’re kind of the same thing.

I am really enjoying Usagi Drop, but I also don’t really want to talk too much about it right now. Maybe when it’s all done. And maybe I’ll read the manga then.

I’m also really enjoying Mawaru Penguindrum, if it wasn’t clear. In a way this is the anime I always wanted after watching Utena. So it’s a long time coming. I just don’t think words do much against it; there’s a simple, calculated yet visceral point to the way the show is directed. It feels very theatrical (as in, a play) but yet not that over the top. Maybe I’m just too used to over-the-top stuff, but for a cartoon this is pretty okay. Given its Thursday lineup and the equal doses of girls-side pandering, I’m half suspect that this is real free-market competition versus noitanima.  Also it makes me suspect which show has done it before. It’s time to pander harder, Fuji TV.

I’m still keeping the pace with Sket Dance. It’s probably some form of penance. I guess without the trappings that Gintama is surrounded by, I find Sket Dance a cleaner version of kind of the same thing. It also slightly reminds me of Nadesico, in the way that Yurika and her crew would consistently making peace signs at the camera–something I am also watching it (similarly to how dm is watching CCS).

And oh, episode 16 was AWESOME. For a show as inorganic as this advance-formula Jump anime.

Blood-C? I guess I’m behind, but it isn’t bad. Just not really engaging until you get to episode 5…and I’m behind. It’s kind of a dangerous thing; nico comments boosts its entertainment value drastically, but I can’t say too much about the source material like this.

I’m also behind on Blue Exorcist and Tiger and Bunny. I just don’t have the time to catch up now that I’ve fallen behind. Maybe soon! I enjoy both shows (especially T&B) so hopefully I can make a run before some major climax goes to town.

Back to fresh stuff: The IdolM@ster is doing well. Is it canon to spell it “The Idol Master”  when the @ is an illegal character in the title? Or what? Anyways, this show doesn’t disappoint, but I don’t think my expectations was high in the first place. Still, given how much I loved episode 1, episodes 2-end have a lot to live up to. Also, this is definitely an anime that is made for the game fans, which is kind of refreshing. It’s done well enough to not bore me, giving us something of an episodic character focus while expanding on the rest of the crew, at least as much as they reasonably could. The Producer main character is interesting enough, which highlights something interesting coming from the game, too. Maybe someone can go wax poetic on the importance of assertion of the other self in first-person ADV games where the overall narrative is driven by intercharacter drama. Something a mix between Sakura Taisen and IdolM@ster?

Kamisama Dolls is pretty okay; I don’t particularly dig the character designs either (but it does make Utau cuter than she ought to be) but the story is snappy and enjoyable. There’s a little bit of everything to make it worth watching, even if the end is kind of telegraphed.

As for telegraphing, there’s a lot to be said about that in Nichijou. It’s pretty quality textbook example of how to do it. Is it doing the telegraphing right? For the most part; but that doesn’t automatically make the jokes work. For meta-humor of the direct kind…I’m not sure how to put it into words. It’s like if Nadesico (again) is an anime about meta of everything about itself, then Nichijou is just meta enough about the execution that it tries to do something about it. Where as a show like SeiZon is just straight-face meta. It’s like how in MLB, hitters adjust their swings to counter-game the scouting on them, over the long season?

Mayo Chiki is kind of the Seizon kind of meta, except it’s straightforward enough to make the jokes internally. Sadly it’s kind of boring if the lead characters don’t sell you. I’m not sure they’ve sold for me yet.

It’s a busy summer season that continues from a busy spring. Maybe Hanasaku Iroha continues to be the “bar” this year as to measure the effectiveness of anime to entertain. It flounders periodically and yet it hits the mark periodically, and like many series this year, the presentation is overall solid. What lies in the differences is how good they are at telling their stories. It’s also not a surprise the best storyteller anime (at least for battering average) is also one of the most popular and most anticipated series this year, Steins;Gate.

As for stories, totally random last note here, but big grats on Maaya Sakamoto x Kenichi Suzumura marriage. It is pretty awesome– they have canon OTP roles! There’s Shiki x Kokutou from Rakkyo, Haruhi x Hikaru from Ouran Host Club, Lunamaria x Shinn from Gundam SEED Destiny…and some not-as canon ones, like Sakaya Nakasugi x Shamyalan from Birdy Decode. Both are from the same agency, and despite the 5-yr age difference, Sakamoto got her debut before Suzumura. I guess they see themselves as from the same “era” or whatever. Anyway, congrats to two of my favorite voice actors! You can find a full pairing list here.


Picking On Chris: On Transforming Fanservice

I generally don’t pay Chris B’s simulcast coverage any mind, because I think Chris’s context is sort of odd when it comes to simulcasts (a bit like this, in fact), but this season he shells on two of my favorites: Steins;Gate and OreTsuba so that makes him a natural target. He also kind of misses the point to Sket Dance (OMG I’m watching a JUMP anime), but I think that one is actually forgivable because the anime exposes the problem the manga kind of has. (Compared to Kaminomi, where the anime greatly enhances the original material…IMHO. But that’s another post for another day.)

And I’m just going to talk about these two shows. There are other disagreements, but I, being not Chris, will have a different opinion on things. That’s not what gets to me. I just think he got these titles wrong entirely. And well, many people didn’t like OreTsuba, so I probably should say something about that regardless of anyone else.

First off, read CrunchyRoll’s AMA on Reddit. And I quote, more pertinently (you might want to read the whole thing anyways):

Kuiper 5 points 15 days ago
Are there any “sleeper hits” that turned out to be unexpectedly popular, or do you generally have an idea of the kind of revenue pull you’ll get from a certain show at the time you secure the distribution rights?
[]
i_work_at_croll  14 points 15 days ago
It’s always hard to predict, but it’s not a complete gamble either.
A few shows that performed better than we expected are:
Blue Exorcist
Ika Musume
Steins;Gate
[]

[Formatting and links removed; partly because it’s hard to quote and make it look okay. Last Retrieved 6/23/2011.]

Since Rob P’s departure, we no longer have a steady source of Crunchyroll viewership ranking  (AFAIK; if you do know a source, please share!). Going by online buzz, it’s pretty clear that Steins;Gate has relatively good viewership, and generally the trend is on the up as it approaches the midway point. And even CR confirms this. So how am I suppose to interpret this statement:

With the show now hitting its halfway mark, it’s a difficult show to really get a handle on. In a way, I’m often surprised that the show hasn’t been canceled.

Does it seem wrong to you? I mean, I’m probably being too harsh: I think if we swap out Steins;Gate with Serial Experiments Lain, his statements would apply just as much. And he would be wrong just as much. But if history taught us anything, it was that there are more than a few people who slammed Lain and yet it sold. More importantly, there’s a lot of great stuff going on in Steins;Gate (and Lain…I think) that just is not being picked up by Chris. I guess he does admit as much.

What is the takeaway here? I don’t really know, besides that I don’t think he gets what a lot of today’s simulcast-viewing people are after. Which may very well be a totally different group of people than those who buy anime on DVDs in America, which is what he represents better.

As for OreTsuba, it might be just a matter of taste. And I don’t have any taste when it comes to fanservice. (Although that is also a taste in itself, arguably.) But I can’t take it as serious criticism if Chris says:

[…] and the show has so many surprisingly raunchy and poor taste moments that it simply doesn’t work well at all. When it makes some of its revelations at the halfway mark, it’s pretty much a too little, too late point.

Really? Poor taste moments? Can Chris honestly be a judge on taste? I mean, he’s probably the biggest porn anime reviewer out there. He gave Kanokon a B? I mean, you can go to Mania.com and look at all the slutty anime he reviewed. Really? OreTsuba got “actively dropped”? That’s actually some very high praise in that it’s probably not like anything he’s seen before.

It’s like, I heard you like some boobs so I put some boobs in your boobs show so you can boob your boobs? [Qwaser S2E10 FTW.] OreTsuba doesn’t need to rely on memes to get its points across–it can become the meme that gets its point across. I think that’s what’s really brilliant about it. And that brilliance is precisely in the execution. The fact that Chris can’t enjoy a show like this is not my business at all; my problem is in his inability to recognize that there may be a method to its madness. Maybe OreTsuba is too clever by half, sure, but he didn’t even say this. I just hope he never reviews Seitokai no Ichizon.

The saddest thing is, I think Chris has a good grasp on what sells in R1. And while I actually agree OreTsuba may not sell in R1, I think the other strength OreTsuba has is precisely in its ability to appeal to a R1 audience through its strong character writing. The scrambled narrative is what I think may hinder its uptake, but OreTsuba is very story- and character-driven, and for its ensemble cast of 8 or so main characters (plus side characters), a lot of exposition and development happen within the 1-cour length. It does things as fast as Baccano, basically; the story is misleading up to the end, and while the audience may feel deceived at times I think there’s a lot to chew on.

For this genre of anime, OreTsuba is a real gem. Well, maybe it’s just me who enjoy a misleading narrative, especially when the excuse for it is to illustrate the convoluted plot device, but it comes together. And you know what I love.

Again, like I said, it comes down to taste in a lot of cases. Chris is an easy person to pick on (nothing personal) because he is easy to read–I mean, he says it. Back in Kanokon’s review, he’s fessed up:

Kanokon isn’t a deep title, but it’s one I had a lot of fun watching because it knows it’s not meant to be taken seriously. And it goes further in a lot of ways with its sexuality yet doesn’t feel completely over the top. But my standards probably aren’t the norm after watching these kinds of shows for twenty years…

Well, assuming you’ve seen Kanokon (unlikely), then hopefully you’ll get what I’m trying to say. This guy gets it. That’s why I still care about his opinions, because I can relate to where he’s coming from. (And just before I further incriminate myself, no, he’s still the expert on anime porn that I will never become.) (That said, I think Kanokon on DVD is uh, polished up from the TV release.) So it’s a little more disappointing that he doesn’t quite dig the new wave of meta anime, especially ones involving fanservice.

I think that the iterative seasonal TV anime offerings from Japan is evolving, changing, and offering viewers new types of shows. Especially in the past year or two; things are moving in a new direction. Things that are tried and true may continue to sell, but unless these established, old-timing reviewers pick up on these trends, they’re just going to poop on these opportunity to organically grow the fanbase. If Funimation wants to go out on a limb on OreTsuba and put some marketing muscle behind it (I hope they do), great. It doesn’t seem like a high risk title, I don’t know, but I am glad that they’re doing something about it. But if we want to transform this season’s simulcast viewers to next year’s DVD owners, I just don’t think Chris’s perspective will cut it.

Lastly, it is usually the case that anime of a certain genre sells better than others in America. So short of just saying “this anime doesn’t belong in this genre” is there any value to the whole “license” and “dub” thing? Because to me “dub” is just a “how much it will sell/target audience” thing. I mean, this guy thinks Lotte no Omocha deserves a license. That’s probably the low bar for this season in terms of how marketable something can be–how do you market the whole “this guy is in this 11-yo succubus’s ‘harem’ but he is also her mom’s lover and his daughter is the succubus’s half-sister, all before the thing about how she has to extract his semen to stay alive” bit? (And for the record I am watching it, and think the anime is pretty okay for what it is.)


Akasha, Religion And Chair

In the middle of a discussion about what makes for “chuunibyou,” I thought about Nasu’s… Nasuverse. In that world, mages are people who take magecraft like a trade: you have teachers, craftsmen, unions and guilds, rivals, people who do it for fun, people who do it for profit, and people who do it for the hell of it. You have artists and salarymen, parents, children, and heroic spirits. Swords and sorcery? People who are dead because they are killed? People who are the bones of their swords? It’s, in a word, chuunibyou to a tee.

But in that silly world-creation exercise, Nasu laid down some foundations that I particularly like in this kind of setting. It’s a bit like Fuyumi Ono’s Twelve Kingdoms, where the laws of the world are absolute; Gods and emperors speak with not so much authority but with reality-bending, “let there be light” powers. I like that sort of thing.

The cool thing about Nasu’s magecraft is in its adherence and pursuit of the akasha, or the origin. In a way, the attempt to understand Nasuverse’s notion of origin is just like a mage’s pursuit of understanding of origin of humans and the world, existence in general. [Cynical: both are fraught with irregularities and illogical examples!]  The cute thing (and adding to its middle-schooler-illness) is that the notion is not original. I just think it’s a beautiful parallel to the act of introspection: when we examine deep within ourselves, conflict invariably will emerge. When mages fight each other in Nasu’s universe, it is a clash of different origins, cloaked by the personalities, motives and external reasons (eg., fate) behind these conflicts. These conflicts are external manifestation of internal turmoil. These conflicts are thematic.

Because, after all, the darkness inside of ourselves is the one that brings about the most enduring and endearing conflicts. Tsundere, I’m looking at you.

The other neat thing is that this is a central concept that perpetrates consistently across all of Nasuverse. In a way it feels like those Tolkein-style students of arcane magic, living inside their towers, honing their art. It just has taken a 21st century turn of events. And of course, these Nasu-mages are hardly anything akin to a D&D mage in practice. It’s the thin veneer that keeps his works at least somewhat credible, sure, but I appreciate at least the consistency.

The way I model these things in my mind is kind of how I look at, say, how one could reconcile religion with anime. For example, Mike’s the real deal. And I find it an uplifting testimony to read. It’s more about us than the anime that we watch. It may be reasonable to say that Nasu’s writing is horrible (I don’t know, I can’t tell anyways), but it resounds with others, with a purpose, so it is fine. I see it specifically in pursuit of science. It, too, revolves around the notion that we are students of the world; we are learners, not teachers. Because we know we don’t know, it is why we do these things. It is why GlaDOS gets away with the things she does. It is why Academy City exists. It is why we pursuit the study of the world. Scientists are eternal newbies: that’s where the action is, that’s where the new revelation is, that is where the new science happens. It is driven by the same budding curiosity and imaginative power that makes Steins;Gate an amusing watch on principle. In other words, it is the same force which powers chuunibyou bubble. Scientists, too, are just human beings with all the contradictions humans have, seeking the origin of all things.

Times like this I wonder if THIS CHAIR is just a reference to AI development.


A Game of Tuu-Tu-Ruus

Kana Hanazawa‘s character in Steins;Gate has this little chant, a sound effect, that she makes whenever she presents a greeting. It is very cute. Moe, perhaps.

It can also be full of burning passion.

It is also something I’ve been trying to get on my phone. After 3 seasons and some number of OAVs later, Meru’s notification tone for messages is getting a little old. I figured it’s time for something new.

I started looking for a good instance of Mayushii’s fanfare (or whatever you call that audible) to clip at around week 4 or week 5 of the simulcast from Crunchyroll. It’s about week 9 now, on 5/31. It’s like, the first couple weeks had a good opportunity or two where Mayuri was able to blurt it out with a bit of a framing from the show, without background noises in the way. Every other one since then it was a part of Mayuri’s normal routine. Often times it’s done while she’s in the middle of something–walking, running, talking while someone else is talking; if not, there’s always some kind of background noise to denote that thick, urban malaise. There was at least one where a car was driving by when the event occured.

Episode 8 even had a double … thing. Which was very cute. It feels like they’re quite mindful of how Mayuri speaks her signature line. Will some other character repeat the cute little catchphrase before the anime is over? Will we be cured of chuunibyou? The world may never know.

Will I get a clip of Mayuri going ドゥッドゥル゛ゥー? Yes, I already have. Will I get a clip of Mayuri going tuu-tu-ruu in a way that I like? Only time will tell.