Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

Tone Deaf Hero

[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…


Japan Trip Dec 2018

I’m not sure what to write about in regards to my recent trip to Japan. I did it mostly because of CG 6th in Nagoya Dome and Wake Up, Girls! Final Tour in Iwate, but I tried to use that JR Pass power for tourism purposes in the days between the two lives. It also occurred to me that I went to Japan way too many times this year, in a way that I have to date my trip by the month that it happened in, not not just by the Year or Quarter even.

I traveled quite a bit compared to my usual weekend jaunts, so I had some thinking time as I sat on the Shinkansen. They are marvelous aren’t they? I saw the Hayabusa and Komachi detach at Morioka and the nose cones of the two trains transform and cover up the latches. This kid behind me even went “Shinkalion da!” I was able to take an overnight train from Okayama to Tokyo. I finally got to see the Seto Inland Sea as I rode on a bus around Mihara. I had okonomiyaki in Hiroshima. And primarily, I was able to finally visit a Japanese car museum.

Of all the things Japan is known for in the world, I want to believe Japanese cars are the most renowned things. Before weirdness, sushi, ninjas or anime, there are these heavy machineries that made everyday life possible for 100s of millions of people across the world. It’s like when I was watching Jack Ryan I see how the rich terrorists drove Land Cruisers and the poor ones are in Tacomas. Joke aside, Toyota is the number one car company in the world, and that is saying something. Something that probably summarises the totality of the post-atom-bomb Japan, its economic recovery, and the role it plays in the world today.

So it was nice to go back in time and see the humble beginnings of these modern marvels. It’s almost like flaunting when the Toyota automotive technology museum in Nagoya proper featured all these textile manufacturing stuff for maybe a third of the place. After all, that’s how Toyota got started, making textile manufacturing hardware? I guess you can always visit their main campus for the full blown tour but I did not have the time. I spent a couple hours before the live in Nagoya looking at a giant metal press, or how relatively small a Prius’s battery is compared to the skate-style batteries in newer BEVs. There were a lot of neat little things if you are into cars, and even more if you aren’t, as the whole facility tends to target a more general and youthful audience.

I was more emotionally connected to the Mazda factory tour. You get an English language guided tour of the much smaller museum space in Hiroshima but also their primary assembly line. It totally reminded me my last car, which was also built in Hiroshima–the only place MX-5s are built, if not the only assembly line. The Mazda company takes up like a quarter of the city out there in Hiroshima, sprawling complexes of ports, warehouses, factories, schools, dorms, hospitals, gyms, you name it. It’s still the boonies, but it was something the locals prided themselves on. There are buses of school children at the tour as well.

It was pretty cool watching a MX-5 put together and I shed a single tear. Which was one more tear than I shed at CG 6th. I mean, it’s not that small, agile, fun-to-drive fandom it used to be, as this joke goes.

Cinderella Girls 6th Live was a visual spectacle. Having seen a couple lives inside the home of the Seibu Lions, Metlife Dome frankly, well, sucks, in comparison. Metlife Dome is a bad venue, despite the innovative (and ecologically neat) semi-open design, as if a UFO phased into the Japanese hillside. Nagoya Dome was much better. I really liked the acoustics, despite having to deal with outfield bucket seats. The full dome roof also made the visuals less weird, I guess.

There are a lot of things I could say about CG 6th, but I was glad to be able to see TriPri being powerful and how “AAAAAARu” Field chains into Nagareboshi Kiseki. I really enjoyed Treasure, and it’s fun seeing Kirarin Robo in the metaphorical flesh. And villain Acchan with a frying pan. There are also a lot of bellies there for some reason. I’m glad I was able to participate in a pretty good event and fulfill my dumb promise I made at AX.

I really should talk about WUG Iwate and Morioka separately, as the totality of that visit is kind of one thing all together. So I will do just that.

There were other minor objectives I had in mind on this trip. One of them is to stay at the “famous” Economy Backpacker Hotel New Koyo. Located in Minami-Senju, this place is not what I’d recommend you stay at unless you are okay with living in a run-down dorm, as it is what it is for 2900 JPY a night. I think the only real reason to stay there is that it is cheap and the staff speak English. There are similarly priced single-room hostels that don’t look completely like a dump, and maybe even closer to the station, for a bit more in rent. Cheap business hotels are maybe starting at 5000 JPY. OK, the real reason is I know all too many people who stayed there, so I wanted to see how things are like.

I also tried remotely working while in Japan. It only works somewhat–I really need to have a desk and a chair, as it is tough staying awake when you’re sitting on the bed the whole time. I do a lot of meetings so it necessitates me being awake during Japan’s sleeping hours. New Koyo isn’t really meant for that, and maybe I’ll try again at a proper hotel next time.

Another thing I had done on this trip is take an overnight bus. Japanese buses are kind of interesting, as now I have taken all the basic varieties from the mass transit version, the shuttle version, the tourist bus version, and now the overnight sleeper which comes with a bathroom. I splurged a bit and took a 3-in-a-row type bus which meant you had basically a premium econ plane seat to yourself. It’s sort of unusual to see this in the US, if ever. I took the bus mainly because it was the only way to get to Tokyo in time for my morning flight out, coming from Morioka.

Destination-wise, besides the automobile museums in Nagoya and Hiroshima, I dropped by Takehara as the one anime pilgrimage spot. The trip is complicated because flooding and typhoon earlier in the year took out the Kure line, meaning the only other way via JR Pass to Takehara is a bus from Mihara station. Alternatively I could have taken the direct bus from Hiroshima but that costs about a thousand yen one way. Mihara station itself is interesting, as a local Shinkansen stop, as it’s also built on top of a castle ruin. The bus drove along the coast to Mihara, so it had a scenic side effect despite making that side trip much longer.

In terms of events, I also attended Machico’s solo live on 12/1 in Yokohama, as well as a mini-album release event at HMV Shibuya for Komagata Yuri, in addition to the aforementioned live events. In retrospect I definitely could have packed on more, but it was already quite a lot.

A lot of the time this trip I was doing solo traveling, which was refreshing given my prior trip in September. On my last tourist trip to Japan, I was basically in a tour bus the whole time, living on a schedule dictated by the tour company. It was fun and eye-opening, but restrictive. This was more just whatever-I-want but the quality of the trip is as good as the homework that I did ahead of time. I guess if you could, why not do both?

PS. On my way out of Japan, I took a Monday 10am flight from Haneda to JFK. While waiting to board I spotted the famous video game developer Kojima Hideo, in line for first class. I can never be sure of these things but it did turn out to be him, confirmed by his tweets later in the week.


Okui Masami 25th & HAPPY END Live “Celebration”

Okui Masami is a major figure in the anisong industry, mainly because she was one of the backbone persons during the early King Record/Starchild days. She is directly the senpai of Mizuki Nana and she has kind of cemented things once she joined JAM Project. She also started her own record label and done various other things behind the scene over the years. Today she still produces, writes music and provide chorus and “lead tracks” for various anisong, outside of her solo and JAM Project work. Well, it would be better said that she has done a lot over the years, and nowadays she has largely moved onto doing JAM Project type stuff.

As I say this, even while as a member of JAM Project, she has a lot of solo activity. Or rather, as a fan of her since her pre-JAM days, her solo activities never really stopped cold, in my opinion. It definitely has slowed down, she’s taken breaks, but unlike many of the other old guys in JAM Project, she has a full original solo album out, which is quite rare. Well, I say old guys, but she turned 50 years old this year, so just about everybody in that group is getting up there.

A solo live is also quite rare for Okui Masami nowadays. She no longer tours, and most appearances are in festival style. This live is the first solo live she has had in two and a half years, or since 2016 March. Why not go, I thought.

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Nerd-Factual Accuracy in Fiction

Last season there was this anime called Cells at Work. It was a fun(?) story about how different cells in a human’s body can be personified into the usual anime characters and interact somewhat based on their perceived biological functions. Swallowing foreign substances and breaking them down become the equivalent of hacking at a monster with a knife, for example.

Cutting to the chase, I dropped the show because of its depiction of the digestive system as a volcanic pit of acids. There are no good bacterias the show, ever (at least at where I dropped the show half way through). And frankly that’s just not how it actually works. The way bacteria is depicted in Cells at Work suggests a particular view about the body that is a little too germaphobic for me. Plus, isn’t it just a really “derpy” way to detail, say, House? We are seeing some common human illnesses depicted in epic proportions. Maybe it’s kind of nice to see a message about cellular mutation happening dozens of times a day inside the body of an adult but, I don’t know if I dig this worldview. It puts too much emphasis on “us” versus “them”; when at the microscopic level, we’re all just a bunch of biochemical mechanisms. Mutations always will happen, and humans evolve because of it–it’s such a cartoony black & white take in Cells.

It’s a lot more offensive to my senses than, say, how in Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai’s (Senshun Butayarou (the series) henceforth) description of the thought experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat. Like, okay, you are 90% there but you miss the big fat quantum quality to it. It is the crux of countless FTL theory talk or why giant robots could be made as spoken by countless middle schoolers. I don’t really mind it that much, other than I wish mass media would at least get the science right. If the idea was observation affects the experiment, then that point was made, which is why I’d give Senshun Butayarou at least a passing grade.

For a high school romantic comedy revolving around supernatural mysteries, though, framing the inquiry with a thought experiment is a classy take. I always liked those X-Files episodes. The wiggle space of a different, unexplained phenomenon makes using a thought experiment to explain how the protagonists figure things out makes a lot of sense as long as they don’t rely on it too much. One could say Senshun Butayarou crossed that line, but maybe not far enough.

PS. Slowly unpacking new anime of Q42018, but I’m getting there. I left a lot of Q3 shows in the dust because of my trip to Taiwan and Hokkaido in late September. I’m not sure I’ve recovered from that yet (thus a 30+day gap on blogging). I only learned about “Thunder Thigh Takarada” the other day but I did not know canon fetishism baked into the design could spur this kind of outpouring. Gridman is coincidentally good, so maybe that contributes.


Release the Spyce Preview @ Otakon 2018

I was still working on my Otakuthon post before I went to Otakon, so uh, here’s the timely nugget first.

Otakon 2018 featured two premieres, High Score Girl and Release the Spyce. The latter seemed more feasible schedule-wise so I attended it. That said, I was a couple minutes late so I walked into the opening action set piece.

I wanted to write about it because this show is really up my alley. It’s a fun spy/ninja piece about a bunch of young women who gain superhuman powers after biting on special spice. Spice, as in stuff you put in food, not the drug from Dune. The main character is a 11th grader who stumbled upon the secret organization in her town, Tsukikage, after her 99.99% percentile perception powers let her spot some shadowy figures flying around rooftops one night.

The lead character, Momo, who is voiced by Anzai Yukari, is a “shopping street kid” type character who seemed to lost her father to something. I won’t go too much into it but a truck ton of foreshadowing was laid down during the 2-episode pilot. And yes, it is a 2-episode sort of thing, which is why they showed 2 episodes at the con I assume.

If you have been following the marketing of Spyce over in Japan, which I have in a very casual way, you would know they have had some live stages featuring the voice cast. The main gang of the story is the Tsukikage group of ninjas Momo becomes in association with, and they’re joined in pairs by master-student setups, where the girl each have to train a successor since once they get too old, the spice super power gimmick stops working. This is partly how Spyce features a really solid of current-day voice actresses. Only a handful has been credited online, but after seeing the full credit after ep2 I can say that this is a show that scores well on that front. Well, it’s a Pony Canyon thing I guess.

The other non-spoiler-ish info I can share about the plot, I guess, is that there is an enemy group opposing Tsukikage. And it seems they’re full of female voice overs, too. That seems like the initial main conflict for now.

There are a lot of pieces of the setting that tickled my fancy–the use of curry for example. There are a lot of spice-themed things in Release the Spyce. There are also some actual spy kind of things, like manipulative interpersonal skills and 007-esqe gadgets. There are some solid parkour animation here and there, and the action leans on movement more than clashing of weapons. The 2-part pilot even ended with a car chase. It’s also the feeling you get when you witness the two sides of a pun moving in slow collision in the form of a TV anime. It’s like when galaxies swallow each other up in the course of millennia, despite being an exciting astronomical event. Or maybe a super slow-mo video of a vehicle test crash. I like it when a pun takes on a life of its own I guess.

Momo and her shishou Yuki (CV: Numakura Manami) use a stick of cinnamon-like thing as their power trigger. One of the other girl uses a bay leaf I think. There are a total of 6 active ninjas in Tsukikage as far as episode 2, and each of the student-teacher pair use the same spice, for up to 3 different spices. The media-mix property is already getting a novelization and manga adaptation since earlier this year, so it’s probably written in there.

I’ll leave the big spoiler on twitter. Well, big on impact, very small on substance. Anyways, the series is slated to air in Japan in October. No word on international streaming yet, but I’m guessing whoever typically Pony Canyon works with being the good bet (HiDive?). The full credit roll of the two-part screening was translated into English, so I’m guessing that’s the case.