Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

The Meta Game: 2017 Spring Edition

It’s sort of well-understood that otaku TV anime play to the meta. By this I mean it’s about defining, deconstruction, reconstruction, spins, and swapping of existing/known genres and archetypes. It’s a continuous cycle of creation where frameworks that are successful are reused with modification to create something similar but new. New ideas that work often gets grafted into other existing frameworks for added effect. Things also don’t always work out as intended.

What’s interesting about this season’s meta (like a new expansion of M:TG or Shadowverse, as the comparisons may be) is that there are more attempts at misleading or misdirection by giving off generic vibes than not. Last season I think the biggest “gotcha” was in Fuuka, but the most successful misdirection was Kemono Friends, where the audience were treated to this borderline “so bad it’s good” CG animation as a means to help us engage the right part of our collective consciousness in order to parse the surprisingly sincere and nuanced story. Two seasons ago the well-received buttocks anime, Keijo!!!!!!!!, also has this sort of a play to it where viewers go in expecting one thing, but got something quite different. Even original anime projects like Haifuri played this trick via marketing, and it’s unclear to me if it actually fooled anyone. The oft-panned Mahouiku is sort of the victim of not reading the meta correctly, which was using this baited setup to provide a very traditional story, ultimately kind of disappointing the audience. I think this season we will see a few others play out this way as more shows pick up on the meta.

To clarify and disclaim, by “misdirect” I don’t want to imply that there was some kind of intent behind the process. It may be intended or it may not. There are some cases in which the marketing material or the production style was done to give people contrasting expectations, but some cases are not. I think Kemono Friends is a good example where there isn’t an intent to do quite that. Sure, media mix projects often do employ marketing to manage our expectations and solicit interest to a degree, but I want to highlight the shows in which these things get into the “art” of it, as it were, enough that you want to sideboard your deck against the meta, as the analogy goes.

LOGH Status Check

I just finished episode 82 of the main Legend of Galactic Heroes OVA series, so it’s a good time to do a check point and write down some thoughts. For those of you who don’t know what that episode signifies, it marks the departure of a very important character, and the story takes a turn here in a way. I need the time to let some thoughts sink in a bit, and jot down some stuff before I forget.

The story moves in a smooth chop, and so far the thing I admire and like the most about Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu is how it combines some pretty interesting characters along with a breakneck pace of long, drawn out events that happen in a short narrative period, all to make a few points. Actually, what I like maybe just as much is how funny this story is. Like, at times it made me laugh more often than most Gabriel Dropout episodes.

The humor, at least for me, come and go however. Basically when the story is focused on the Imperials, it gets just kind of dry and it becomes a narrative driven by Reinhard’s charisma and a curiosity regarding to his destiny. When it’s the Alliance’s turn, they talk about everything and it’s quite clear what everything is about, what the attitude the show takes towards the topics it tackles, and the Alliance characters and character writing are just way more funny? There are the occasional colorful Imperial but it doesn’t help that characters like Mittermeyer are all serious, all the time.

Anyways, the story is moving toward the final act and I’ll have more to share after that. I don’t think this show will make my top whatever list or anything, but it’s a very strong, story and plot driven affair that oddly feels politically relevant even today. It shows its age like a good whisky does (even if it’s from El Facil). In some ways, this is one science fiction that is politically prescient, which makes it noteworthy on an entirely different echelon than the usual anime silliness that I rank things with. Any show that can withstand the test of time, IMO the toughest test of them all, will reward you shall you reward it your time.

PS. So it got licensed while I was watching this show? And yeah I’ll be ready for the reboot, actually looking forward to it somewhat now.

Iron-Blooded Orphans

You know what makes people cry? Dead children, sure. But also onions.

Spoilers ahoy! Both seasons!

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AMV as Performance Art

Just want to opine and pine on a fandom thing out west, the anime music video. TL;DR is that Twitter has killed the AMV, much like how overall, social media transformed blogging, cosplay, and fandom in both general and specific ways.

First of all, I liken AMV like performance art. It’s like what you do in a very elaborate and purposeful Vine (RIP). There is always power in putting motion to music, and this is why it is only exaggeration to say AMV is dead or someone or thing has killed it. But that scene isn’t growing, at least from the consumer side. Just like stand up comedy or theater tropes in the age of mass media, those things will still continue to exist, just in a different way, not like how they were before cable TV or the internet, for example.

The big “get” in my mind is how AMV is different than, say, fan art, fan fiction, or the doujinshi, in that it is not really a platform. People make AMVs because they evoke emotions, because they are funny, or dramatic, or whatever. It’s not because the latest fad is the Emperor Penguin or the Shoebill, and Bin1’s modus operandi is to cross anything with IDOLM@STER. Or that you’re using a fan-fiction-concept content publishing platform like an actual fanfic or a slash artwork, because you thought your idea needs to be put into form.

Well, which is not to say people make AMV not for those reasons, but people don’t watch AMVs for those reasons. Instead, they go to a booru or tumblr or whatever. If you put a bunch of people inside a convention programming room and show some cool anime that solicited their emotions along with English-language (usually) music, that would be pretty neat. Just like how MST3K to, say, Lensman anime, can be pretty neat in the same setting, but it doesn’t mean people care about Lensman anime or even want to touch it with a 10′ pole.

In a nutshell, people made AMV because they were cool, not because they wanted to express something unique to the medium. It isn’t to say there are no AMVs that were made like that, or people who think differently than what I’m describing, but that’s not what AMVs were known for. Cool animation put to almost-random songs is definitely how 99% of AMVs are.

To look at things differently, in this day and age, JP MADs still exist and new ones continue to be relevant, but they too have been changed over time to fit the social medium paradigms of the day. JP side focuses largely for comedy (which is probably the main flag signaling the difference in why people created MADs vs AMVs, considering the genre gaps), and as alternative narrative platforms, a bit more like vlogging or fan videos (at least from my IM@S lens bias). But the odds of people finding relevance of a supercut loop of Toradora, in 2017, is much higher than anything Naruto to Linkin Park, just because of memetic reasons. Those reasons live on, even if nobody watches the original video anymore.

As someone who grew up as a fan with cons, in a way, I have some fond memories of AMV viewings as I used to go to them all the time. I stopped only because it took more effort to follow than what I was getting out from it, and while it’s easier to make an AMV than ever, I pursued it only as a fan of the source material. I think it’s fair to say a lot of people don’t follow AMVs anymore because of social media changing the way we consume these little things. We don’t typically put the enjoyment of such on the same level as what we are fans of. But even if you are, and you check out the AMVs to your fav works, that’s really just a recipe to find interesting narratives but mediocre works. It’s about people who are talented that keep at it and still do it to convey an actual message, not just to put cool scenes to nice songs. Performance art is fine by itself, but it is no longer relevant in this cultural economy, unless you take it a level higher.

Avex Ban

For people who care as to why they can’t import certain Avex things, you can pursue this or that. Truth is it’s likely that none of these guesses are on the dot, although in general we can all agree that this is an internal business decision on Avex’s part. The main facts we should keep in mind are:

  1. Amazon Japan has been cancelling or not fulfilling certain Avex orders, and as others mentioned it’s largely in regards to CDs.
    1. It’s key to know that this impacts CD, BD and DVDs.
  2. CD Japan is doing it unilaterally following their email announcement.

The Sakugabooru theory is largely due to Avex Japan wanting to pay deference to Avex Asia and to discourage people from importing. This has to do with mostly music sale, and does not explain why Avex would block video sales. Ultimately, the prices between Japan and, say, Taiwan releases of anime are wide, and the latter is translated into Chinese; OTOH you don’t need subtitles to enjoy some WUG music. Justin over at ANN mentioned things that are not really related to music sales, and at any rate he didn’t quite address why they would not sell CDs besides that it’s a business decision to defer to regional publishers.

The good point about Avex being a very internationally focused company is important to take to heart–this is where Sakugabooru’s link to that investor business deck makes sense. Avex did establish a North American entity last year, but it doesn’t really make a lot of sense in light of the sales ban. It’s likely there’s something internal that’s happening that leads to this decision, only to make sense when some other things, yet-to-be-announced, happen.

The main problems with all these explanations is that they don’t highlight where their guesses don’t make sense. Yes, a relatively small percentage of sales go internationally, but the impact on retailers are not going to be even. They are not just going to eat their shoes. Nor are we in the 90s anymore, when region-based sales for e-commerce is hard to do. Export-focused retailers will have a lot to lose (CDJ is probably the biggest victim of this), and I don’t think you can hand-wave it away unless you are an Avex exec, willing to make concessions (not publicized of course). It also does not explain why CD Japan said that the ban applies only to a majority of titles, and not all titles. It’s not going to be explained by the production committee rationale, at least not by itself.

It’s safe to say that multiple reasons are behind the ban, partly due to business decisions, licensing agreements, and the general climate of the industry. It’s really weird, at least IMO, that there’s this anime Blu-ray lens hovering over this discussion since Avex’s ban doesn’t really impact that–it’s largely related to their music business first. And here’s another point where the committee/anime video licensing POV doesn’t make a ton of sense: It’s not like the committee on Yuri on Ice are made up of companies that never produced other works, works that have Blu-rays published in Japan and then exported. Yeah sure each committee and contract is different, but it just doesn’t ring true to me that there would be this difference just for Avex’s titles. Or rather, it would mean there are a couple companies in play which are having some issues elsewhere, causing this result.

Anyways, I am impacted by this as much as all of you, since being a WUGner means buying Avex products. I think it’s important to realize this is happening not because Japanese people are xenophobic, but because the Japanese music industry is ass-backwards when it comes to internationalization. (Xenophobia might be a related root cause, but solving that isn’t going to fix this kind of issues.) It’s got nothing to do with the handful of eroge makers who banned exports (and I’m really weirded out that people would make the connection with, say, Visual Arts, even though that shouldn’t be so weird).

Your guess is as good as mine as to why Avex decided to not allow retailers to export things. We can take shots as to reasons why but I can say with some certainty that it’s not just one reason why, given just how a lot of these reasons don’t make sense by themselves.

PS. I wonder if other folks impacted (and … hopefully people actually impacted, not just a handful of people who can’t import Takkyu Musume) have figured it out, and if they have more facts to share. So far all the anecdotes I’ve heard personally are from anime Blu-ray importers and WUGners, which is a teeny tiny bit of the iceberg.