Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

A Year+ With Princess Connect! Re:Dive

This is my current mobage workload:

  • T1: Playing a lot (log in several times a day, do all the stuff):
    1. Princess Connect! Re:Dive
    2. THE IDOLM@STER Million Live Theater Days
  • T2: Playing occasionally (daily logins only, with bursts of normal play):
    1. THE IDOLM@STER Shiny Colors
    2. Magia Record (EN)
  • T3: Playing rarely (log in occasionally–just to gacha really):
    1. Hachigatsu no Cinderella 9
    2. THE IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage
    3. Granblue Fantasy

I didn’t mention it on my blog much, but I have been playing Princess Connect! Re:Dive since its launch in 2018 and have been playing it regularly ever since. We are about 1.5 years since launch. I still enjoy that game a lot. Let me write about it.

Basic information and review:

Gameswith
English Reddit
JP Wiki

Princess Connect (Pricone for short) franchise, which first launched in 2015 as a browser game, shut down in 2016. Princess Connect! Re:Dive (Pricone or Pricone-R) launched in 2018 as a mobile app game as a continuation. Pricone-R was originally an Android/iOS game, now also available on PC via DMM. An anime has been announced with no air date, but Studio Wit has extensively provided animation for the app/PC game.

Why do I play it so much? Because it scratches a RPG itch that sort of is at the core of the Cygames RPG theme, yet unlike their other entries, Pricone manages to provide all the flavors with the least amount of filling. “Grinding” this game usually means playing a set 30 or so minutes a day, which completes your dailies and maybe spending a bit of extra time to “tower” or “PVP.” For people who actually are into grinding, this game is going to run dry pretty quick. For people already playing other things or have obligations in RL, it’s an easy thing to keep tabs on and is not laborious.

Re:Dive also balances well between free and paid play, and given its PVP slant there has to be decent balance for the game to still be taken kind of seriously 1.5 years into it. In usual Cygames fashion they are pretty generous with in-game currency, and instead monetize by providing frequent and cheap options to augment your teams. Spending the currency to improve your existing team members usually trumps spending it on gacha, but both do happen.

What I refer to by the Cygames RPG theme I mean generally the following: a stats building core in traditional JRPG sense, the usual rock-paper-scissors damage/defense model, evolving meta (a bit like Shadowverse except it’s with characters and not expansion sets), and clan battle and coop events. In some ways if you are familiar with Cygame’s original properties over the years, you can see those themes progress from one game to the next. In that sense PriconeR reflects a level of maturity in both Cygame’s development process and experience in game design.

One huge way PriconeR reflects mature development process is how it is one of the best quality-of-life games, both in the UI design and in terms of mechanics. Over the last 18 months the game consistently improved its user interface, and updated to add several common shortcuts and to removed mechanics that reduced player enjoyment/added tedium. It’s very clear they are tracking how players are playing the game in a very direct sense, like what menus are being opened and what stages people run, not to mention obvious things like which characters people are raising and using with others and where.

There used to be a player-matching PUG mechanism that gave out pretty decent rewards, but the fights for that feature were so easy that it was just pure grind. The challenge was actually doing the PUG part. That feature got axed pretty quickly because most of the time the players are dealing with the matchmaking interface rather than actually playing the game. You can see that they even upped the reward to get more people to play prior to axing it, but a lot of people cannot be arsed to wait for matches.

Visually, the game is a cute-girls-gets-stuck-in-a-mmorpg kind of a theme. It is very cute and generally the visuals roll between the SD models that you see in the 2D game engine and the full-on anime visuals, or the 2D static graphic for the dialog/adventure game/VN portion. There is a lot of skeuomorphism which adds color to the whole experience of this rustic RPG vibe circa Ragnarok Online. Once in anime mode, though, the game, complete with Kouhei Tanaka-style sounds, reminds me more of Sakura Taisen. The next-episode preview bits for its in-game events and main story chapters drive that home.

Actually the composers for the game range a lot. Tanaka wrote the main theme, but just eyeing through the in-game music store (you can unlock songs from events and the story to use as in-game menu BGM) you see composers like InoTak, for instance. Which is lols.

Day-to-day play

Usually Princess Connect! Re:Dive means clearing the daily quests. It requires stamina (generated over time, the primary gameplay driver) to clear 20 nodes, 3 hard nodes, do 1 Arena battle, do 1 Princess Arena battle, buy mana once, skill up a character, star up a piece of gear, give someone in your clan an “ii ne,” do 1 dungeon battle, do 4 “explorations,” and you get 100 free stamina from noon JST and another 100 stamina at 6pm JST. Occasionally there are events, which are self-contained areas which have their own daily and event-specific quests, plus the monthly Tower of Luna daily and Clan Battle daily.

To do the daily quest as someone in UTC-5, I log in once in the morning and once at night. You have a “room” (similar to Deresute) in which you can grow and farm bonus stamina, exp pots, skip tickets and mana. Harvesting twice or three times a day keeps everything under their maximum limit. Also, that lets me collect the daily quest stamina. So I would probably do the “early day” stuff and finish as many quests as I care for when I log in at night after work, and log in once in the morning to clear out the accumulated stuff in order to finish all the dailies.

I would probably play a bit harder on evenings for Clan Battle nights to save the clan battles for the morning, since it require using up 900 stamina. It’s just easier to wait for the bonus daily stamina. Tower I generally hate so I try to play it only when I’m in the mood for, and have time for.

Since I have been playing the game fairly closely since launch, the routine also carry me at the top of the player level cap all this time, as the level cap extends once or twice a month. Having access to all the content probably makes all this easier from the start. Events are a breeze to grind through, where the challenge is in only clearing the VH boss with 1 try, and the exhibition mode/special mode. In recent months the game has been sort of trying to be more relaxing in order to allow late comers to enjoy the later content.

Meta

Given the PVP drive of the game, there is a lot of advantage for being first mover. To use a recent example, the latest meta-altering character, Neneka, dropped into gacha as a limited character about a couple weeks ago. For the first 2-3 days people were easily topping Arena and Princess Arena. Now it’s full of people with 5* Neneka (and 6* Kyaru) a week since. To get 5* Neneka to rank 14, that is a fairly significant investment that even I was able to make (despite being mostly a free player).

There is definitely an online community for the game in which a meta exists, either because that’s what “gamers” read on the internet or seen others do. Obviously, a social game that is Pricone, with clans and all, people talk about what works and what doesn’t. This especially matters when it comes down to arena and princess arena, which are really just a giant puzzle where if you can recognize the hand the opponent fields, you can figure out your counter. The fun is figuring it out, mostly, because it’s not so fun to play janken when you know what your opponent throws, unless you just want to enjoy winning (and it is enjoyable).

This is at odds with the social/meta nature of this Cygames game (think Shadowverse) where people competitively come up with “teams” (or decks) in which you can beat via some kind of RNG (since you can’t control play). If your team is “rock” enough against an opponent team that is “scissors” enough, you will more likely win than not. So in the end everyone tend to pick teams that are really the rock/paper/scissors that has the most difficult counter. It isn’t even like janken where you have to guess, or like “arena janken” where you have to think about if the opponent’s teams are like rock or paper or scissors, it’s just a matter of balance.

So when a new winning combo drops due to a new character, it becomes fun again. Until the meta settles or is altered (like how Neneca is kind of replaced by Kyaru 6*), it’s kind of fun again.

Conclusion

This game fits my lifestyle. Reality is I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and play. Console games are rough. I can do stints with Steam, although lately my PC needs an upgrade to really enjoy that. Half of that time I am either watching anime or sportsball, or catching up with tons of free seiyuu content online in radios or promotional talk shows or weekly streams. I can grind, and the game has grind-type content if you want it, but I’m never forced to do that, nor does grinding convey so much advantage. I can just put in my 20 minutes a day if that is all I have time for. I can even skip if I really want to.

The game is also fun, which is why I have not gotten bored with it. The QoL changes over time makes the game less painful to other entries. The art and voice over (fully voiced game) is top notch and the anime style really apes from that Sakura Wars-shaped hole in my life.

It also helps that the main story is kind of interesting, although I don’t really care too much about the characters themselves. It is a serious game with silly characters and I’ve had enough of those. They are features I don’t need, but enjoy, and maybe others like them more.

So overall this is a great little gem of a game that could take off in the right situation. In South Korea the game apparently is doing very well, and it isn’t too bad in Taiwan/HK/Macau either. I believe there is even a Chinese knockoff of it now. Pricone shows that a quality product that does many of the little things right will still find an audience.


Late Night Parenting, Summer 2019

Just want to note that Uchi no Ko is about a helicopter dad and Okasuki is about a helicopter mom. Both are terrible and why this is the best consumable entertainment for this day and age.

I wonder what made both programs air on the same season? It’s like one is on the giving end and one is on the receiving end. And because they air in the same season I can’t help but to compare them.

I really like Okasuki in that the Mom character is both an oil tanker load of main female trope but, add a lot of “mom” to it. Mamako does a good job I think, in that you can feel the irritation of a child who is just sick and tired of his mother being mom. Good job, in this case, is that I can pick up that feeling well, and yet not let it overrun the tone of the show.

Well, the tone of the show is kind of not good, to put it mildly. It’s got that strong, late night meta-fantasy isekai harem stench all over it, except it isn’t quite it. I don’t think it’s a bad package overall but it is kind of hard to swallow personally. Maybe I just don’t have a mom fetish.

It’s in that contrast that we see Uchi no Ko, or something equally long of a title as Okasuki that I won’t repeat in this actual post. Let’s put aside the fact of the main female character and her various plot events and attributes for now, but look at Uchi no Ko from the “dad’s” point of view. I think it is a pretty powerful look at a very naive and small-brain perspective to parenting.

I’m harsh on this because it isn’t even wrong, it is just not the way to go as a storytelling style. And in that sense the cover in Uchi no Ko is that he isn’t her real dad, even if essentially that’s who he is. It’s sort of a fantasy fulfillment, if you look at the overall story and how it ends. Which is why we are all in the present and now for the child.

There is also a timelessness to Uchi no Ko that is amusing, but right now the early going of the anime is making all these parent feelers tingle. It’s an easy way to write a parent-child relationship while having the audience dote on Latina like that. It’s like a parental fantasy in which you “build” your child like a slime builds his SimCity world while being really adorable. In that sense, at least Uchi no Ko is not entirely shameless (yet?), and deploys some emotional nuances.

It’s certainly a much more comfortable thing to witness than parading humorous MILF tropes around. But I think that might just be a matter of preference, since children do grow up (and then we can talk about Araoto).

It’s maybe more like, when you do world building with a fictional world, okay, we all do that. But it’s kind of weird when you’re writing a story in which, in essence, is a MMORPG character creator. It blends the weirdness of a “cartoons come to life” meta with standard anime character development. The end result is just kind of silly on one end, and icky on the other.

In a way this has been also the isekai genre’s strength. The genre takes away one layer of meta for us, and ever more steadily, otaku anime today get right to the point.


“Wotagei 101”-type Panel Thoughts

Since someone asked about this and I have definitely thoughts on this over the years, it’s time to write them down. Basically, a dance cover group out in DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) called μnite hosted panels at Otakon this year and last year to teach people the wotagei thing. Or the idol thing, I guess. I was asked by some guy to provide some feedback. So here it is.

The context doesn’t matter that much–I guess it’s an anime con in the US/Canada, and a panel at said con. So we are talking about pretty low stakes to start. And that it’s out here US East Coast.

These are extremely low stakes. Like I’ve rarely seen better jizos. And that is okay.

I’ve spilled some ink on the topic very generally, but in redux, basically, there are layers.

  1. Common sense layer: don’t be a dick, don’t be obnoxious/KY, obey the rules (to the degree that it follows common sense).
  2. Wota layer: do the calls, do the right colors (if any), do the right team coordination, wotagei responsibly
  3. “It’s art” layer: do what enhances the show for yourself, for the artist, and for everyone.

We can wax poetry for the 3rd layer all day long, so I won’t here. But we could, over drinks.

If we assume a panel at a con with a title “Wotagei 101” is mainly about education, then I am assuming we should be presenting information about layers 1 and 2.

And layer 1 is really a thing that should not need to be taught, at least in this format. It’s maturity and life experience. Go to events, see for yourself. It can be any live shows or similar events. And sure, Japanese idol events are not the same as, say, a free concert in Bryant Park during a summer night, or a Babymetal concert–actually that one is kind of the same! So maybe, yeah, go see Baby.

(Joke aside, metal is a great gateway to eventing. It sets the “average” high bar–things can always be more crazy but on average metal shows are more crazy than non-metal shows. At least in the States. There are nutsos in Japan as much as any other country but the average is well below the States I think. It’s more like, there is an initiation, a learning curve, in which kids get their tigers out of their system after a while. If you do a lot of headbanging I guess it accelerates the process.)

OK really joke aside, after a certain amount of life experience I expect most people to get for layer 1. The complication with layer 1 is when you get into the weeds, there will be differences between a con concert, an AX con concert, a Japanese anime-content-style concert, an underground idol show in Japan, and all kinds of different shows where different protocols are needed. The best example I can give is attending a similar panel at Anime Next this year the panelists pointed out even when you wave lights at a Japanese live for anime content, you don’t go all out and extend your arm, you do it so you your arms/stick don’t block the view for people behind you. People do not fully extend at certain types of shows. This is kind of a big deal that people rarely ever talk about. Even if it’s kind of a “layer 1” sort of thing.

Then there’s the other kind of knowledge I have liberally spelled out in this post–there are different kind of concerts in which different rules apply, but also some same rules apply too. How does one know what to do at an Aqours concert versus an idol concert? I mean most people at Otakon probably don’t know the difference. And does it even matter?

These are the kind of knowledge that forms the first steps to go from layer 1 to layer 2, and I wish more panels covered this.

But that’s not even the truly important kind of knowledge for layer 2–which is what to do when the song comes on, for the person in that particular time and space at that event.

We really should be teaching this. Maybe people learn it when we do Days of Dash or Rising Hope, but there’s a lot more to it. I think there is room for a panel just teaching people anikura moves. But that isn’t even it.

Before anikura you need to learn non-anikura, which is the standards: The calls and moves for the anisongs if they were performed at a proper venue by the right people. Then that is the real platform where wota can jump off into the deep end.

I talked to some folks about this and I feel we could do a lot better to address the knowledge aspect of all this. From attending, say, the Fakku sponsored MOGRA events, and other anikura stuff, my feeling on the matter is that people are hype and a lot of people actually know the music. But people don’t know what to do when the song comes on.

So it could be the ankura-style stuff or the normal wota stuff (which becomes more background and less crazy during anikura if people were doing wotagei or foolish anikura wazas, and less intimidating). People need that association.

Maybe what a future panel could do is go over the actual moves and cut the rest. Like, spend 5 minutes doing the very basic (could be a tutorial video). Then we would do each song’s “special part” like twice, once demo and once with everyone. Or once “live” style and once “club” style.

This would equip everyone with what to do. If we can get an cover for actual anikura at an anime con late at night, so much the better.


Slavery In Another World

Just want to put this post here as food for thought.

Why is slavery such a common plot device in isekai web novels? It’s something I’ve touched upon in earlier blog posts and Twitter threads, but it’s only become a big question within the last year or so, thanks to The Rising of the Shield Hero‘s general popularity with the Western anime community. What was once a curious oddity within the light novel subculture has gotten much more visible now. And thanks to America’s fraught history with chattel slavery and persisting political issues regarding how that history is taught and remembered, isekai slavery is a more controversial topic there.


As a result of all the recent chatter, I became curious about why slavery became such a trend on Narou in the first place. I stumbled upon a story called よくある異世界奴隷事情を現実的に考えてみた (“I Tried Thinking About the Common Isekai Slave Circumstances Realistically”). It’s an essay/short story that explores the topic. I thought it was interesting so I reached out to the author ε-(´∀`; ) and obtained their permission to translate it. Here is the translation:

https://frogkun.com/2019/07/01/i-tried-thinking-about-the-common-isekai-slave-circumstances-realistically/

Well, first of all, thinking about fake slaves sure beats thinking about the KyoAni fire. My condolences to everyone involved but I am just not ready to deal with it. I can use a powerful distraction. Second, Frog-kun please talk about slavery not when everyone is at AX? Thanks.

I’m just going to go scattered brain a bit. For one, regardless if there is (and there is) a difference between how Westerners view chattel slavery versus East Asians view chattel slavery, this is kind of neither here nor there. Putting it in context, we have some light novel writers writing slavery into their works, and it’s not off to assume that these Japanese people are integrated into Japanese society, in the early years of this century. Maybe there are some light novels from the 90s still being turning into anime today but when it comes to this particular discourse, it’s not really as much as historic as it is people using history to interpret a modern thing. Maybe we want to draw from slavery of the past to explain a feeling a writer may have yesterday. And these feelings are byproducts of living beings, in Japan, in the 21st century.

That being said, it feels like slavery, at least in the cases I have encountered in light novel adaptations (as I don’t really read light novels…) are closer to the kind you find in eroge, which is basically just different takes on sexual slavery. I think there are some cases where it isn’t, but invariably the negative space between the enslaved and their benevolent masters allow viewers (or fans, more specifically) inject sexuality into that. There is some notion of devotedness in which are on display at the foreground. It is not unlike how, in Shield Hero, Raphtalia lives for her master, and it is a malleable relationship in which we can interpret Naofumi in a variety of roles (provider, guardian, best friend, parent, lover, brother, etc).

Of course, these fictional relationships are ambiguous, partly because they lack modern analogues. Or rather, their modern analogues are too real to fit a fantasy work of mass consumption by a largely escapist audience. The real problem, similar to my idol rants, is that slavery still exists (both chattel and sexual), and it’s kind of cheeky to lay those into your light novel inspired by entirely different reasons.

The irony of isekai stories about slavery is that, well, for just about everyone involved in these isekai stories–writers, editors, publishers, distributors, retailers, readers–is that modern slavery is effectively a wholly different world that doesn’t overlap. I mean, we call with a different term–human trafficking. Maybe eventually that isekai novel about modern slavery will be the ultimate transcendental brain meme.

To put it in to other words, if people are more familiar with the problem of modern human trafficking (which Japan always be, maybe somewhat undeservedly, maybe not, always a big player in Asia), all this slavery discussion might become less relevant. Naively, I hope at least. I see it the same way as “idol” discussions out west–if people actually knew what idol culture is in reality, they wouldn’t confuse it with fake idol video games and anime. If people knew what modern-day slavery is, they might not kinkshame so much or confuse fantasy nerd self-inserts and bad philosophical signaling with the horrors of real-world slavery.

It’s almost like we are literally talking about slavery in another world. LOL. It’s the sad state of affairs when people cannot separate facts from fiction, because they don’t know what are facts, either due to misinformation or plain old ignorance, and a stubbornness to accept new information.

And it is kind of chilling in some sense. The human trafficking issue in Japan is very similarly patterned–when impoverished youths are exported into Japan and work the sex trade, only because they really have no option, we merely substitute magic spells and metal chains with systemic socioeconomic oppression. Yeah, they may live a much better life as a prostitute! Sure beats being a prostitute in a poorer country. They can afford healthcare! LOL. But com’on.

PS. Ever watch YOU wa nanishini nippon e? They interview some of these laborers under the TITP program.

PPS. Dr. Stone is basically an isekai isn’t it.

PPPS. The prevalence of slavery in isekai works today (of a certain style I should say) may very well be a symbolic representation of the yoke of the tools of society on its people. It would be way too raw to write about real human trafficking, but it is comfortable (for some) to enjoy magical slavery where one’s master is kind and takes care of us. After all, it would be ideal to find employment where your bosses are kind and takes care of you. For example. And of course don’t you rather want to be the boss and not be bossed around? Thus, isekai slavery as a proxy of human relationship in which the gears of society is proxied as magical slavedom now is a thing.


Anime North 2019: Wrap

I should add a huge question mark to this post, in that I YOLO’d Anime North to see Toda Megumi during Memorial Day weekend (in the States). I skipped Friday, mainly because of work reasons, but I carpooled with fellow Million Live P Moy Friday night and arrived in Toronto early Saturday. I stuck around and went home Sunday. It was a really quick sort of a deal.

Toronto has this great aspect to it for me in that it’s a well-equipped city that runs on Canadian Dollars, which currently has great rates against the USD. Road tripping again this year was fun, now that I know the routine and can just pace myself.

The con only gave Toda 2 signkai and 1 panel, so it was fortunate that I was able to catch the panel at all, and the signkai on Saturday. She was more or less what you would expect and she approached the oversea panel challenge in a fairly fun kind of way even if the crowd was pretty quiet.

I did prereg and picked up my badge pretty fast. The rain on Friday and Saturday was more annoying than any crowding, although there were a large group out and about in the parking area as per usual Anime North. Parking was quickly going by the time I got there at around 10am.

I didn’t really expect to do much at Anime North this year nor did I. The rain definitely put a damper on things. There were other exciting exigencies, which I’ll detail later.

Toda’s panel was not really eventful and now a couple months later it’s hard for me to recall much. There were some Japanese guys asking her role in New Game. That and Million Live were the bulk of it. She did end up going to the Falls and downtown Toronto, and seemed to have a good time? She also got a nice view from the CN Tower, which is a nice deja vu moment for me.

I asked her about weight training because she tweeted about it around that time, but it was mostly her training for more stamina for Fukuoka. I was kind of out of it due to lack of sleep so it was a bit more embarrassing than usual to think about to that experience.

For signkai, we talked about Meisou Mind being her favorite song, which she also mentioned during the panel. I had Makoto gear on so, lol.

The remainder of the weekend was for The World Standard, the fun Avex Trax backed idol group. Fun because, well, they’re fun. They are also in the middle of their prime years as idols, ranging ages 18-21 I think? Wasuta had a nice turn out since GTA is now a tiger’s den, but a lot of Japanese visitors also flew in. All of Wasuta’s events at the con were Saturday and Sunday, so that was nice for me, had I cared enough.

It was a crash course in learning about the group. I have only heard of them maybe a year-ish ago but before the con I looked them up on Twitter and IG. Not bad but still kind of stilted. I guess that’s what it means to be a Japanese idol this day and age.

Their live show Saturday night was fun and reminded me of WUG a little lol. Definitely some of the dance moves and the way their live videos are used are similar. I went to their panel Sunday. Really the only thing I did there, plus a signkai, on Sunday. Then it was time to bid the con farewell.

What else happened at the con? (Foregoing my usual postscript…)

  • We ate at a new steakhouse and it was great. The dessert was tops. We also “heard” game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at the steakhouse. Toronto is serious about their Raptors. “Heard” because it was a really loud crowd.
  • On the way to GTA I realized about 4 and half hours in that I left my passport home. Well, we ended up getting into Canada anyways because I had my Global Entry card. The thing does not substitute for a passport, but at discretion of the Canadian officer they could let you in. The main thing is, you can re-enter the States with it. If I was denied entry I at least can drop off Moy so he can mass transit into Canada, so we got to the border earlier than planned. As a result of this we ended up with less sleep than initially planned Friday night into Saturday, and we ended up stopping at a charger somewhere south of Toronto to have breakfast and kill some time. I didn’t even get to eat that complimentary breakfast at the hotel in Syracuse…
  • We stopped at around Niagara-on-the-lakes to buy booze to bring back to the States, on the way home. With just Wasuta, we got lots of time going home.
  • We also stopped to eat some pickled pizza in Syracuse.
  • Saturday was a pretty straining day, so after we were done with Toda’s events, we ate at Zets and I just crashed pretty hard.
  • Wastua girls were at the con exhibition area Saturday giving out flyers to their show. Their show was pretty decently attended and probably what you would expect for a 25k+ con.
  • Some JP fans definitely came and camped for it, and I saw some signs of at least normal wota behavior.

Toronto isn’t too far from Buffalo, so I guess the wings are legit enough.