Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

Theater Dayz

So much to unpack. But let this be the prelude and I’ll just build on it.

The rhythm game IDOLM@STER Million Live: Theater Days, launched the night I was packing for Anime Expo (day -1). I put in a fair amount of hours and money in the game since and we don’t really have a real event yet. The first “event” is actually just a period of time where activities in-game will yield more rewards, and you get a free 30-stam drink every day.

Since I can’t talk about how events affect this game, I can talk about the other stuff–which is rather noteworthy. To put it simply, this is the game we’ve been waiting for since Shiny Festa was first a thing. It takes the next step that Deresute didn’t quite take, which is to build out hakomas-style dance groups (fixed at 5 members), but also with audio mixing. Granted this is only available for one song, Brand New Theater, but we expect Thank You, Welcome, and Dreaming all will have this option available.

Watching and playing Brand New Theater in Theater Days (avoiding the Milishita nickname for now) is a trip. It is enough proximity of an experience to watching S4U modes in PS3. This is something that I can call authentically “IDOLM@STER” which has been now recreated in a new video game. On just this level, Theater Days is a success in my book…at least comparable to Shiny Festa.

The main interface of Theater Days is full 3D with characters moving about the screen like…ships passing in the night? They just glide to and from designated points in each “room” and other than a few pre-scripted things, they are just kind of there. I guess this is the limitation of randomly-generated character events than carefully-scripted ones you find in the in-game menus of Platinum Star or BanG Dream. I’m nonetheless grateful that at least on an individual basis, the idols that appear in the rooms, lobby, hallways, or whatever, do the things we want to see them do.

Unlike Deresute, I’ve been playing Theater Days with 3D as much as possible. The 2D mode is pretty lame, but it does what you need it to do–which is nothing but static background that you can’t even affect (outfits/SSR make no difference). Indeed, this game is meant to put the fact that IDOLM@STER the Video Game Franchise is about 3D-rendered idols dancing and singing while you do things, front and center. The gameplay even forces a gameplay pause during the bridge of each song so you can watch the idols strut their stuff.

I feel this is the main charm of the game. And at the same time it’s something that the market has been kind of weaning off of. Most players these days are groomed to play them without these enhancements, in order to squeeze the battery life a bit longer. The hardware in the wild probably still has a ways to go to make the Theater Day vision 100% true, but we’re pretty close, if you have a modern phone (GS8, iPhone 7).

The rest of the game is very much similar to Deresute. The team composition, leveling, training, awakening, and limit breaking all play more or less like modern rhythm F2P games that now flood the market. I won’t belabor this and rhythm game aspects of Theater Days besides to say that flick notes sure are PITA. And probably the one most notable thing is that Theater Days have many quality-of-life upgrades over Deresute, such as removing inventory management all together, so you never have to deal with duplicate cards or putting cards into dorms or whatever. Not too important of a thing, but I appreciate it.

Of course, Theater Days is still in its early days, and it isn’t as feature rich as Deresute, although you can kind of see they plan to feature-match all the basic stuff down the road. It’s also kind of buggy on the edges, and talks to the server a lot. The core game works pretty well, so it’s not like BanG Dream which can still cold crash on my phone (happened just today in fact…).

And yeah, it’s invariable to compare Theater Days with Deresute, and so far it’s a helpful guide. There isn’t a room of SD stuff you can play with, but I think that’s intended (no such thing in ML card game). The gameplay adds a “shigoto” mode which in effect, lets you progress using stamina to get a random commu, rather than to play a song. Maybe it’s a QoL thing too, but commu with idols is also another hallmark of the franchise. It’s important and heartening to see this feature being put it to in the game explicitly, rather than just story that you unlock.

One last note in regards to the early days of Theater Days: the gacha. Unlike Cinderella Girls, you can reasonably “collect” all the Million Live characters off the bat. In fact, with 765Pro characters in the game and getting new voiced lines and scenarios, I really wanted to at least get those 13 first. It would just be like OFA! LOL. The harsh reality is that the initial gacha layout gives 26 R and 26 SR, splitting the full cast in half. Since there is no “friend point” gacha you cannot roll for Ns, as N cards drop only by completing songs and work, and at a “fairly low” rate (given that this is a compu gacha you’re aiming for). The characters whose only non-N cards are SRs are hard to get. Also since the SSR rate is at a blessedly 3% it meant that you had a higher odds of pulling a SSR than a specific SR. With the first new batch of limited SSR/SR, that ratio has changed a bit so you have 0.388% of pulling a SR (excluding the promoted SR) and 0.338% of pulling a specific SSR–almost the same IMO. But it’s hard to get all the Ns. As of this writing I have 48 Ns, 24 SRs, and 7 SSRs. I only was able to complete all the Rs.

So, let’s talk about the meta stuff.

I’m still struggling to incorporate Kaori and Tsumugi into my brain, on an emotional and intellectual level. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it; it took me over half a year to get into Million Live properly so I expect to get comfy with the two project 39 members by winter this year at the latest. I certainly don’t dislike them, but it would help to see them live in October, yeah?

There are some fanon forming and reforming around Kaori and Tsumugi, and it’s kind of a fun time seeing it happening as it goes. The game itself brings life to Million Live by introducing the characters to more people and to opportunist artists, so hey, not complaining about that.

One of the more subtle threads about the two new characters is how in effect, at least at this point, the less refined characterization necessarily meant they are caricatured to a degree, replacing existing ships or roles in well-established tropes or jokes. I think Fuuka is really feeling it. Hopefully this is just a temporary thing while Mugi and Kaori spread their wings to come into their own selves.

With SideM game also on display (prereg period ongoing now!) we get a glimpse of the hydra that is IDOLM@STER as a game franchise. LOS is clearly taking a different path than TD and SS. It’s sensible to see that the boy side take a different route than the girl side. And it makes me wonder if we’ll get another boy-idol spinoff…

What’s probably the most noteworthy is Taneda Risa and Tanaka Kotoha. Kotoha is plainly not in Theater Days, and this is a huge move relatively. This speaks to me that IDOLM@STER is done with seiyuu switching if the circumstances can help it, and this is an internal decision. If anything, we should infer all the more that Tanechan is coming back, and it is just a matter of time. Just like how SideM anime announcement confirms that Million Live anime will happen, and it is also just a matter of time…

I guess I can take heart that at least the management is committed to doing the right things, but it’s hard to see what’s good about it. Tanechan is not Kotoha. But if Tanechan is coming back, then we need to keep that seat warm for her… Maybe there is a temporary compromise somewhere that makes up the room for improvement. Namely, just put Kotoha in but keep her voiceless?

Please get well soon & come back Tanechan, we all miss you (and not even just in Million).


On the 2017 Spring Season Light Novel Meta

When light novel anime is making statements on light novels we know we are in some kind of a twilight zone. I guess it’s not that unusual to see YA lit turn into cartoons for teens and young adults (and some older adults, too). I just want to highlight some of the scenes I’ve seen and think about it a bit.

Tsukigakirei to me is the one that threw the first punch. To put it into categorically database-y terms, the jock girl and the quiet, book guy hooked up because they have, I guess, similar dispositions? The draw for viewers is this charming 15-yo pairing doing what junior high schoolers do so well, but the boy in the story has this career tangent about becoming a writer. At one point he went and interviewed for a publisher who encouraged him to write light novels, because that’s likely the (only) audience who will find his works interesting. He snubbed the idea, because in his heart he’s a classicists, as his soliloquies are often dotted by quotes from the likes of Dazai and Souseki (thus the name of the show). He writes serious fiction…for young people. Well, good luck kiddo, at least you got that snobbery attitude down, hope the rest of that hipster lit writer bit will follow. Lastly, it’s important to note that Tsukigakirei is an anime original–in some ways it’s a lot easier to write in a reactive attitude that snobs light novels without being one itself.

Eromanga Sensei is the story about young makers of light novels. It involves at its core a light novel author and his shut-in adopted little sister, who also is the illustrator for his books. It’s really that simple, but the story is about how a series of weirdos come upon the “light novel protagonist” (a well-meaning but appropriately appraised insult used within the show, no less), while the little sister becomes slightly more adjusted to society after a series of tragedies that traumatized the unfortunate siblings. As a story where most characters are involved in the light novel industry (illustrator, writers, a couple editors, and a bookstore employee/owner, plus one dick-calling classmate), it has a lot to say about light novels. Most of the time the story only make sharp comments about the industry (as a fan-critic would, thankfully at least) as part of the jokes Eromanga Sensei trots out every few episodes. Its main thrust is providing an enjoyable show (well, to me at least, but I understand it’s not for everyone) while calling you names, and calling itself names. I think there’s definitely a market for this stuff, but I also understand why some might find it too, I don’t know, meta-kinky, for straightface (or even one degree removed ironic, FWIW) consumption.

Saekano season two is not about light novels, but it has a main character whose day job is writing light novels. Instead, the work the team in Saekano tries to complete is a visual novel. How do visual novel relate to light novel (Saekano is a light novel-turn-anime)? This is a deep question, but in a honest-to-goodness media-mix world it’s all a spectrum, as part of the drama towards the end of the series relates to another media-mix IP that’s not a visual novel, let’s just say. The focus of the story and the theme in the story this season largely rests on the creative process and how to create stuff, what motivates people, and so on. The romance angle is pretty well done in this context, but it’s no puppy love story. I think ultimately it makes some very compelling arguments from perspective of someone who’s been doing it a lot, in as much in this season’s meta, Saekano answers the question asked in Tsukigakirei very well. More importantly, Saekano plays with an even tone for the most part, with our Mr. Ethics showing us what not to do the whole way, no matter if they are creating a light novel, a visual novel, or just any creative-creative thing. Actually, you should read this to get a sense of what I mean. This story is as much about producing as it is about creating.

I watched Rokuaka and find it unremarkable on the meta ground as far as light novels go, although it demonstrates, to me, the strength of an anime based on the medium. Danmachi’s spinoff is on this season as well but I have not touched it (yet?). I dropped Clockwork Planet, but it is pretty much just straight-faced as well. There’s not much to say about Sukasuka, perhaps aside from its post-rock style title. Are there any other light novel trash about light novel trash this season?

It’s safe to say we’re beyond peak Light Novel Anime. I think things seem stabilized, but this level of self-awareness is only possible after a full embrace of this mode of media. We’re technically past an inflection point, but I’m not sure where things are going. I’m not so much into forecasting on the industry level on this, but I think Eromanga Sensei is a standard bearer in this regard; it’s very much a version two, after carefully adjusting from version one of the thing. Its success(?) or failure(?) will be informative.


Eromanga Sensei

Eromanga Sensei anime is the Gamera of late night anime, in the Roger Ebert sense. Speaking as someone who saw Air Force One but not much in terms of giant city-wrecking turtle movies, I’m on shaky grounds to appraise either. Eromanga Sensei is in my wheelhouse, though. A little bit of spoilers ahead. Also some Oreimo spoilers ahead, too.

Continue reading


Sweet Soul Sister

It’s a bit of “lore” but just want to put it out there rather than let it languish in my draft folder. It’s nothing special, really, but also a little neat. Basically, ZAQ is good.

For those who don’t know, ZAQ is a musician who is signed with Lantis. She herself has a solo musician career as a singer-songwriter type. But that’s an inadequate description of the kind of stuff she actually does. For starters, she writes a lot of songs for other Lantis projects, and that includes fellow musicians and anime projects that come attached. Her first big hit is also her debut single, Sparkling Daydream, the opening to Chuu2koi, and in that show she wrote the opening and ending, but only performed the opening as a song in her solo library. The seiyuu unit from the anime made up the vocals for the ending single. This is kind of the pattern for a lot of her work. It works particularly well for her, as someone who is multi-genre and covers classical to rock to ska to even hip-hop, which gives her a lot of options to work on anime-wise.

Over the past few years this has added up to that maybe half of the songs ZAQ worked on are actually hers, but due to the way anisong world works she ends up performing a lot of them during her solo live events anyway. To me, based on a handful of Lantis acts that I’ve seen in person outside of their concerts, it’s almost more like, Lantis artists tend to be music nerds who are also kind of otaku, and I feel ZAQ embodies this idea well. Granted she isn’t really an otaku…sort of. It’s just that she carries herself across this mix of nerd and music in a way that makes you think, huh, yeah, maybe…

Anyways, here’s the thing. Lantis runs Million Live’s music. ZAQ writes for Lantis projects. ZAQ has written a few songs for Million Live (here). Out of all 7 or so of them, though I want to call out one: Sweet Sweet Soul, a song that was released earlier this year. The details of the thing is right here, in ZAQ’s own words on her own blog.

Soul’d Out, basically, are the people who wrote Sweet Sweet Soul. They were a mainstream hip-hop group in Japan back in the 00s, and it was the group that got ZAQ into hip-hop music. I guess she’s only 29 this year, so that means when Soul’d Out’s biggest hit (Yakitate Japan ending) in 2005 she’s 17? Anyways, she was pretty excited to write the lyrics about our three young idols and give their take on hip-hop, but I think it’s more exciting for me to see how Soul’d Out left their mark in ZAQ’s musical DNA.

PS. I actually can elaborate on this post a bit. She did a lot of research on IM@S when she wrote the lyrics to Rebellion. I think there’s the general awareness of the care needed to handle the franchise, and she said something to the extent that I know this is probably not very Hibiki-like, it’s pretty cool so I went with it. And there is our red of truth or something.


Half-way Into Spring 2017

I’m still watching anime.

I did finish the main OVA series of Legend of Galactic Heroes, or Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu, and it was good. Feels like a very literal map between TV cartoon from book, even though it’s a home-video only release. Like its content, that release is a bit ahead of its time; I think it would have been a killer IP for a Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. If I was working for those groups this is the kind of content I would try to secure.

Saekano S2 – This is at least astute to a degree, but misses the point entirely. I think of the story of Saekano as a bunch of problematic people coming together, with the joke being that the boring girlfriend character is actually the most interesting person among a bunch of weirdos (to put it mildly). It is full of good, subtle, meaningful fanservice and to me, coupled with Misaki’s designs, makes this top notch in that department. It is a story between battling emotions and emotional people, and really repurposes the harem aspect to describe a creative process.

Tsugumomo – Only really watching it because Sanpei Yuko told me to, but also it turns out to be another kind of fanservice show that are not too common these days. At first the subject matter doesn’t seem to be my cup of tea but it is pretty easy to get along, especially there aren’t any shows this season like this. If anything the porno-ish aspect found in the manga doesn’t get played up as much in the anime, maybe for the best…

Renai Bokun – I started to enjoy this show more to think of it like, trash tier episodes of Ranma 1/2. It might as well be. Haramii’s character is pretty extreme! It was hard for me to watch actively, but really fun to play it in the background while I do something less attentive, such as eating.

Re:Creator – I hope it keeps going, because so far it is doing nicely to escalate. The first handful of episodes were fun to watch in the same ways Aldnoah Zero (at least S1) was kind of fun to watch, in that it is a competent production and the story moved along smoothly. The subject matter actually is still kind of problematic. But I think there are some cool places this show can go.

Twin Angel BREAK – Sins of seiyuu watching brought me here, but somehow once the Russian twins were introduced, this series stopped being as hard to watch. Maybe it’s because I’m watching it for the twins, but I don’t think the story was getting any better than it was before. I guess someone has to give it a nod for laying down all the details in the early going that can come around towards the end of the series.

Tsukigakirei – I LOL’d at the book publishing part. Otherwise it’s just very comfortable cute romance I guess.

Akashic Record – Rokuaka is the kind of trash LN that works in the TV anime format, it’s got some dramatic things that map well to a more cinematic mode of storytelling. It’s enjoyable.

Hinako Note – It’s cute but the fanservice in this show sure is jarring. It has a plot so the show is kind of enjoyable at least in terms of tracking the narrative.

Natsume S6 – It’s still going, but I’m behind. Will probably catch up soon. Have to say after 5+ cours this show is just more of the same and one episode doesn’t always differentiate from the next significantly at times. To me it isn’t about what happens, but the atmospheric quality and the way it entertains me. It’s like a box of chocolates, just because I like said chocolates it doesn’t mean I will finish the whole box in one setting.

Uchoten S2 – Still very enjoyable, but it isn’t as compelling as the latter half of S1. The way the anime plays off the highs and lows with almost equal import throws off the storytelling a little. It’s like if you enjoy passive aggression, you would love this show right now.

Eromanga Sensei – It’s such a fun show to watch, I look forward to it every week. What has been surprising is that I thought I was going to get my best bang for the buck from the meta, but the core material is plenty enjoyable too, unexpectedly.

Attack On Titan S2 – Every episode is more fun reveals, so it’s pretty solid thus far.

SukaSuka – WorldEnd is just too confusing of a name… But the setting is really the shining part of the show. I’m just glad to see Koroazu in a lead role of a show that doesn’t suck… or at least it doesn’t suck that much.

Granblue Fantasy – The first couple episodes were great, but the show really tanked after that; not only it was really too cliche, none of the great part of the game got nice highlights until this past couple weeks. I’m still on board but it really needs to pick up the pace.

PiriPiri Chi-chan – In another page of watching cartoons for seiyuu I am totally watching this for Mocho, but I think this is actually a must-watch for any Rieshon fans. The production, the OP/ED themes, and the general makeup of the show are all really fun and pleasant, so it has been surprisingly enjoyable.

Cingeki – Sometimes I forget how eroi some of the comics are, and I’m glad they decided to make them into anime.

Alice & Zouroku – It’s got a thriller opening set but now things are just kind of normal-ish? Not sure I like the change but it hasn’t been bad. The mid-season breaks this cour has been a little more obvious than usual isn’t it…

sin Seven Deadly Sin – Want to watch ep2 but haven’t gotten to it yet, it’s a little obnoxious and I think Renai Boukun is taking up my quota on obnoxiousness this season.

Clockwork Planet – I actually enjoyed this thoroughly chuu2 show to a degree, but it’s also equally insufferable so I haven’t been able to go past 3 episodes.

Danmachi Side anime – On the back burner, haven’t even tried… But I will!

Bahamut Virgin Soul – I’m glad people are getting what they always wanted! /s When I watched the first series I was pretty annoyed, and I find this one a little less annoying but true to form. But I’m also behind on this because I just haven’t gotten that time for a show I’m only mildly interested in.

Busou Shoujo – One and dropped. I probably would enjoy this show but ain’t got the time.

Anonymous Noise – One and on hold I guess. I enjoyed the pilot but I might need to get in the right state of mind to keep going, so maybe it’s worth a binge watch later.

Silver Guardian – This is OK for a Chinese cartoon. Pass.

Atom: The Beginning – Too uppity for my tastes but worth watching at least one. Might go back to it…after I finish other equally uppity anime in my backlog?

Frame Arm Girls – I was fine with the 2 episode I watched but it wasn’t compelling enough to overcome the jetlag induced backlog. Maybe later.

ID-0 – After just one episode I wanted to watch more, but I didn’t want to mess with another subscription service. I think my habits have largely tilted to watching stuff legit if it meant following it week to week. Two exceptions in the form of Re:Creator and Saekano buck that trend, but I’m sure I would rather watch ID-0 over a lot of the other shows on my list.

On a couple notes in terms of trends, this is the first season in the States where Amazon streaming has some specific exclusives I care for, and Netflix still has their usual bags that they lock up for binging only. Chris from Fandompost has sort of laid it out, although the monetary figure will vary on how you approach the system. Honestly I use streaming so I can avoid making my life more complicated, so I’ll just stick with CR (and Daisuki) for now and ignore Netflix and Amazon until they make their offering more compelling.

And it’s not like their products aren’t compelling. I’m tempted to do a month of Netflix HD just to watch the rest of Sidonia and Blame (and LWA if…they had it). I would subscribe to Amazon’s Anime Strike, too, except I’m in Amazon Prime limbo due to free F&F shipping perk. I’m basically already a leg inside Amazon’s system habit-wise. What needs to change is providing a way for people who can’t get the shipping Prime straightened out, which might mean a more ala cart thing (which makes sense for everyone, not just my case). The second thing is I want more of a commitment from Amazon on anime. If I switch to paid Prime that is one year of commitment (I’m not going to bother with monthly subs with this, sup, the new Amazon credit card), so they better not suck 6 months later. Overall the jury is still out on Amazon and I am in no rush to join until there’s some track record first. (Well, there IS IDOLM@STER.KR waiting but so far that’s just the K-Drama-fying of the literal concept, which one’s mileage will vary on how they feel about k-dramas.)

PS. At this rate, I’m probably going to spring for a Amazon.jp kindle unlimited membership before Anime Strike. LOL.

PPS. I’m headed to Anime North! Just going to chill out in Toronto for a while, as the freight train that is AX prep continues to run unabated. Come say hello!