Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

Million Live 6th SSA

The final stop of the 6th Live Tour for THE IDOLM@STER MILLION LIVE was in good ol’ Saitama Super Arena, in September. Unlike Million 3rd, this whole tour dragged on from April into late September. It crossed from Spring to Summer and ended on the second day of Autumn. That is a really long stretch.

I was only able to go to the Fukuoka stop in June prior to SSA. But that made a big difference. I guess it’s fair to assume even if people did not go to all the stops, many have live viewed at least some of them, if not all. It’s a big commitment to go to SSA for the live, in terms both of obtaining the tickets through one of the lotteries or by other means, and the effort of doing so. Producers across the country attended the biggest stop of them all, even if many traveled less as I did. It is still quite the effort to travel from the edges of Japan. I remember seeing tweets of the guy from Okinawa, trying to bribe tickets with local delicacies.

My crusty, jaded mentality aside, I thought 6th SSA was a lot of fun. Like what I tweeted for day 2, it left me with this sweet aftertaste as Tokugawa Matsuri in the form of Suwa Ayaka came up from the elevated stage and ended this illumination festival.

Day one and day two both followed the format where each subunit came out and do a part of their Angel/Princess/Fairy stop sets, with the collab/guest songs thrown in there and mixed with covers. During the 3 non-Kanto stops, each unit had more time to themselves, and the last 1/3 of the live each day was dedicated to covers and solos. So for SSA, they cut basically almost all the solos. For new content, we got the TB songs and some new covers.

Overall I thought this was fine, purely in terms of going to a live and looking for the songs we like. But this format does not flow very well, since we know what is coming, and the units have to do their key songs. Like, you knew EScape had to do LOST because of the way the song fits their group concept. Or that baller mix of Art Needs Heart Beats has to go with Jelly Pop Beans. It was more a toss up for, say, Charlotte Charlotte and D/Zeal and their covers (which both were new for SSA). But it also felt like day one’s groups were kind of a bore as a result.

In some sense, the overall limp malaise-y feel I get from SSA has to do with the way the approached the tour. It felt less like a live tour, and more like just 4 different shows, for some reason, that had to take place inorganically and in far reaches of Japan, so they had to get the tokyoites to move out by holding back the 4th one until the end. During 3rd it was almost the opposite–you didn’t get to go to the remote one because it was hard to get in those smaller venues; the small venues also made the lives a bit more intimate and different than the big shows Millions do. Tokyo types who want to camp out for the Makuhari stop are free to do so, that one felt fine because you knew it was its own thing, and not a summary like 6th SSA. Maybe that’s why it took me months to finish this recap, lol.

In terms of practical things on the ground, I was able to squeeze in a Kayafesh event on Saturday. That’s basically a really bad costpa sake festival with seiyuu content. I liked it because I can be a lush at times and it’s my first sake fest in Japan. Plus, you can’t go wrong drinking with seiyuu. I also stayed one extra day to enjoy Takagi Miyu’s birthday event, as things turned out to be. It was nice to stay that extra day and hang out with some local friends. Rest of the time, it was business as usual.

As of the latest update, the splash screen for Theater Days changed over to a new quintet, so maybe this post is apropos. For this flower project, we utilized the same shop we did for 5th’s flower stand, and it was a bit more on the cuff with Miri helping out big time. Funding-wise, we basically broke even like last time, but we needed a bit more of a push since the suggested donation is lower this time around, and everything cost more. No pin badges… Again, I cannot thank y’all enough.

It’s a weird feeling, thinking about the live again. In a way the hype was way less than 5th, but the live itself was way better than 5th. I liked how the tap dancers, at least, came back for a nice encore performance from Sendai. It does make me want to look forward to both that and the SSA version, which is a slightly bigger presentation. There are other touches that was nice for 6th. The streams of small videos promoting the live, the goods, and now the blurays, is appreciated but not too sure if it added much. Well, they did a good job promoting that costume book at least?

I mean, they could just say it smells good and I’m sure it will sell oodles.

Set list here: day 1 and day 2.

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C3 Anime Festival Asia Singapore 2019: Wrap

A Thanksgiving…weekender? I guess that’s the best description for this American. It is far, and it was fun. Singapore is both at the same time, this SEA city-state that is steeped in the best (and not so best) Asian tradition but also, like Crazy Rich Asians. For one, it’s an expensive place. The con is at Bugis, and we walked to the Merlion for some photo ops. The place is full on a tourist trap. The whole place is also steep in instagrammable setups that it felt a bit too much. I’m not a huge fan of living inside a mall either, and of all the times I visited Singapore, that was my persistent impression. Well, it beats walking outside that is for sure.

The series of events known as AFASG is on its, what, 11th year now? After its corporate overlord merged with the C3 brand, this name labels a few other cons in the SEA region, such as in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It’s kind of neat because there is significant coverage of these events (relatively to all anime cons, I guess) in English because the attendees often use that language. It’s certainly the case in SG. It’s weird to me because other than the UK cons, you don’t hear much about the ones in Continental Europe, for example.

The con itself is similar to a lot of other Asian cons–basically most of it is a big exhibition space/dealer room. This is what AX is basically moving towards, this is what ANYC is moving towards, this is what everything is moving towards–for better or worse. I can get into it, but let me just say that the room doesn’t make the con and it’s too much of a tangent. Maybe later this month.

Given this is my first time at AFA, I thought the con was run with a degree of practice among the staff and attendees. That turns into a pretty okay experience overall, as far as the nuts & bolts of the “con stuff” goes. I didn’t experience major gaffs other than finding myself not having a seat for Friday’s concert. Thankfully that was resolved just before the show started.

(But, like, imagine you’re ready for fhana and you get to the concert hall and there is no seat with your seat number on it. You commiserate with the other guys just standing there who also have no seat, knowing that someone already told the staff and they are trying to fix it. Then a few hurried staff came with seats and added the chairs and moved people around to reassign the alignment. Great. Show begins in 5 minutes.)

In case it was not clear, AFASG has basically 2 components: the exhibit hall (which has 2 stages–the Akiba stage which is more like a community stage in AX terms, and Lumica has one at their booth), and the main event space. During the con there are stage events that are part of the exhibition. At night, there is the “I Love Anisong” concerts which require another type of admission. All admissions are done via wristbands (daily). So for each day, there are like 5 different wristbands, and times three for the full weekend (they could have done a weekend wristband I guess, but didn’t). At least that’s for attendees.

One notable thing about AFASG is its size. For some time it has been one of the largest anime conventions outside of Japan. Today, it still is very big, but not that big. Just going by warm-body counts, I think it’s on par with Anime NYC 2019. AX is about two or three times as large, give and take. Like, if you’ve been to the big anime cons in the USA, AFASG should be familiar territory. The Anisong concerts don’t pack out (just like how it is here), but they do charge an arm and leg for the designated seats and nearly nothing for the standing space in the back, a nice contrast. The venue sounded pretty okay, and if you buy into the AFAWorld VIP thing, you can even get a decent seat easily.

To spare you with all the negative hearsay I hear from AFASG, I think you should expect a pretty typical anime con experience (state-wise). The venue is about the right size for Singapore, and the crowd is just right between laid back and intense to not cause too much trouble. I didn’t really camp at AFASG until Sunday, plus all the fun stuff I got at the con didn’t require queueing, most are either lottery or through online sales.

Like, I literally waltzed into DJ Arisha’s Akiba stage set half way through and got to the rails, LOL. Or just going to her set at Lumica when it starts, a few rows from the front. The exhibit hall was crowded on Saturday, but it wasn’t crazy. The shopping game is strong, but at the same time people tended to queue a lot at the bigger industry-based booths. Without Lumica and the like I’m not sure what people did at the con–it isn’t like there is a lot to do actually.

Maybe it’s also that the crush is not concentrated at specific things. There were plenty of livers on hand to make a ruckus at the various Arisha stages, but unlike the States it isn’t even a notable quantity of them. This is what a healthy convention environment should look like I guess.

Cosplayers generally gathered everywhere outside the exhibition area. Suntec’s con spaces is built on top of a two-floor mall, and it’s quite vertical with big lobby spaces. People sprawled there, but also there are designated photography spaces. Still people formed photo bubbles around major choke points on Saturday and that is kind of a pet peeve of mine. It’s more the JP style photo circle than just one or two folks stopping to take a pic. Cosplayers should have more awareness on that… But man, turfing this con is super easy–it’s almost by design.

What else is there to say about the con? Let me stop noobing and get to the specifics.

The concerts are kind of broken out by companies this year. Day 1 is mostly Lantis. Day 2 is Sony and others. Day 3 is HoriPro. Day three is almost like Anisong Ichiban, for those of us who remember them. There wasn’t a lot of zooing despite Koroazu’s best attempts, but having a live band to set up May’n and the ensuing collab songs was a nice touch. Don’t Say Lazy is so much better with a live band, I kid you not.

For better or worse, we actually didn’t stay for the whole concert until Sunday. Saturday was really not our thing anyway so we skipped out after half way into ReoNa, and came back to a couple Junna songs to pick up a straggler and go eat dinner. Friday I was just exhausted from traveling and left after Mayayan. The fact that most of the city closes by 10pm makes dining late a problem, but we ended up having decent eats for the most part, going to tourist traps for western bar food. McDonalds is decent eats, I guess? I don’t know.

The show itself didn’t have live band except for actual bands (Scandal, fhana, etc). May’n had a live band backing, which was cool. It makes me think that AFASG’s composition is sort of a ragtag alliance of strange associations. In a way that might have allowed more artists to show up but how much say do the organizers have on the management and labels? I have no idea. It didn’t feel like merch was heavy for a lot of them, which seems to be the case for other shows like AWM. That made sense.

The crowd was proper energetic and it felt like a festival live in Japan, but smaller yet not that intimate. Calls were largely missing actually, but you can hear it, which makes it more in line with American lives but just a bit better.

I think most of the takeaway at the con, despite the big focus on the concerts, were the talk stages and meet & greet sessions. The stage events are basically what you expect, Japan-style talk shows. Unlike the lame versions you see in the US, they got some instigators (namely Yoshida Hisanori) to keep things lively. The FGO ANYC panel is closer to what you want out of these, not dumb walkthrough of some script. That is a waste of all our time. Please, Aniplex and Pony Canyon, do it right.

Of course, that’s asking a lot. AFASG stage were only this good because of the top MCs which can pull it off. Between Ash, Reiko and Yoppy they covered all the Japanese-side of things, and I don’t think you can understate how much they make those panels enjoyable. Especially Yoppy. I mean how do you even get this to work outside of Singapore or China/HK/TW/KR? We also had this random Malaysian talent in Shinonon who cutely handled the meet & greet session, even if mostly that was just telling us to spend the 45 seconds per person of face time. It’s kind of important to give the guests something to remember, and that usually happens when we talk, and by talk I mean nervously stammer, to the guests. Surprisingly all four of the M&G guests were decent at this. Eriko probably was actually the worst, lol. Arai has this comedy act down pact, plus you know how she looks, LOL. The surprise was talking to Fujita Saki, who doesn’t do this kind of thing often but I guess, thanks to Miku, is doing more of it now. Tano Asami was more like, lol. But it was nice talking to her.

I only stayed for a few stage events, such as the epic one where Yoppy and Eriko tried to talk about Eriko’s stuff in English only, with Ash backing up as narrator voice. Tsugu and Kayanon did their usual Saekano stage (about SAO) and SAO stage (about Saekano). I was only at the Saekano stage so I can’t really comment about the SAO stage, but Yoppy did his usual thing and the camera guy really played to Tsugu’s facial expressions. The Null&Peta stage was literally them shelling us the game with Ajuju doing a quick demo of the gameplay. That was neat and interesting, as someone casually enjoying the short anime TV series. I also played the demo there, which supposedly was its first public reveal.

To put it into perspective, the Eriko panel was so good, it probably even tops the Trysail radio event at Taipei during the first Lisani TW as the most enjoyable panel that I’ve seen at a con or any event. It’s pretty awesome to have cross-language panels with canned guests and scripts (well, Yoppy and Sensei kind of destroyed theirs), but I’m just thinking when will we get that in USA? Maybe Toronto first? That kind of MC skill is badly needed and AFASG is a bit of a proof-of-concept that if you hire the right folks and have it planned, it can happen.

Overall, this year’s AFASG felt like a great time, and as a con AFASG is all right. I think if I was more thirsty or the “right” guests comes, I might be more peeved, but for people who are laid back about a lot of this, the con offers people to roll money for access, and there is a lot of laid back kind of things to enjoy if you’re sufficiently tuned into the programming. Money as a gate works in SEA. On the other hand it doesn’t cater to a wide audience unlike US/Canadian cons, so the appeal might be kind of limited and definitely way more industry focused. Singapore is also a bit tiresome in that the weather and the urban environ gets on my nerves after a while, but that’s just me. I’m just glad the people are good and they made my short stay there fun and welcoming.

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For All Tha Worldbuilders

From ep5?

The Ascendance of a Bookworm reminds me a lot of Inside Bill’s Brain. In a season where Dr. Stone also runs in the background, it’s pretty easy to see why that particular fantasy is fancy, where in Bookworm, the lead character struggled to get anything done given her circumstances, in the same amount of time.

The fundamental concept in world-building fiction is really a mapping of thoughts, the inputs, the modeling and the guiding principles behind how one relates to the exterior environs. In fiction, we have the luxury of moving that perspective outside of ourselves and inject unrealistic boundary conditions and shortcuts. A thought experiment is the kind of fiction in which we inject somewhat more realistic boundary conditions (and still unrealistic, or no weirder than undead cats). In JK Haru, you could tie that to prostitution and weave a powerful narrative about human condition as encoded in the language of isekai radobe. I think anything can be built by anything in fiction, and to an extent, real life. Compare that to a biopic/Netflix documentary, when we dig deep into how one person connects to the huge thing that person is doing, a similar image surfaces.

Putting aside Bill Gates’s reasons behind his quest to eradicate polio, I think of Main’s quest to become someone who has access to the tangible niceties enjoyed by bookworms in the same way. She wants to encode information as words in print, and to weave a set of words to depict a world in which Main lives in, through the fairy tales of her isekai mother. It is like building a world on the remains of another, minus the empires at war. Well, I guess there’s still Boko Haram in Africa.

Of course, this is only an interesting comparison because the Gates foundation has billions of dollars and massive resources at its disposal, compared to Main. The recap on Bookworm is that a book-loving adult woman got the usual “ran over by a truck” treatment and is reborn into a young girl in the Other, born to a middle-class rural family in what seems like late medieval Europe. Literacy is rare and the Main, the main character, has to first learn to read–well, she has to first find someone who knows how to read and make him teach her that. Books seemed very rare as well. As the story goes, Main became obsessed in creating her own book since she cannot purchase any. She then tried to obtain paper, or clay tablets, or wood tablets, or making papyrus paper, what have you.

And eradicating polio seems kind of hard compared to make paper at home in the 15th century, if you are a poor little girl. Well, maybe. Given that 1000s of species go extinct every year I don’t really know or can measure just how hard, given each’s comparative power levels, lack of a better term. And Bill is a smart, resourceful dude, definitely a 0.1%-er in terms of not just wealth, but as someone who is known as a smart business guy and a savvy technical guy. He is also a bookworm.

So maybe they’re tied? In her new world, Main might as well be its Bill.

PS. I mentioned JK Haru, because that story share a lot with Bookworm in that one aspect: A lot of the time (so far) Bookworm is focused on not just the world-building power fantasy, but the fact that knowledge portability does not always translate to power portability. In Gate or Slime, for example, the respective main characters gained tremendous power in the opening minutes of the series. In Bookworm, this seems to be entirely the opposite–and arguably Main is a better world builder than anyone in those series. It’s a great demonstration of how the isekai genre is both great (in distilling that power injustice to separate it from present-day reality) and terrible (in reinforcing that injustice). On that note, I kind of guh’d at Chouyoyu (Because how are these people any good? If this is “smart” for Japan then that country is in trouble) and I tried Noukin and couldn’t get into it. I’m okay on Isekai Cheat but behind. Am I missing anything worth checking out?

PPS. I can use an isekai fantasy where someone just runs a NGO.


Bandai Namco Festival 2019

It was a thing.

In a bid to stave off jet lag and fatigue, and partly motivated by procrastination, I want to tackle the two-day festival taken place last weekend at Tokyo Dome now rather than later. I tweeted it enough, but in summary:

  • Bannam has a lot of stuff! But IM@s is where it’s at, for this show.
  • All the idols in under one roof is all one.
  • While it was short on the collab department, there were still some great ones.
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Araoto Is Like Pouring for Your Boss, “Araoto to to…”

Thanks to reading to yet another outrageous but understandable take, I remembered that I had some blog posts to write. Instead of dwelling on those unfinished businesses, here’s a non-sequitur of sorts. Very light spoilers ahead.

Araoto, short for “Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo.” (…and complete with the period), is a manga-turned-anime written by Okada Mari. The story and the way the story is told, both in the manga and anime, are extremely signature Okada. Even the subject matter is a standard fare for her. The way Araoto blends in elements from her prior works, (borrowing the climatic pivot from Tari Tari, and basically condensing the emotional whiplash from Nagiasa, I don’t know, among many other things) it feels very much functional rather than meaningful so that the anime is about sex and teenage girls at all.

That being said, Araoto’s topic of sexuality is as a salacious of a topic as you would expect, given that this is entertainment for virgins? I don’t know how else to put it. It might seem both outrageous (funny) and exaggerated (lame), especially when it comes to Mr. Milk-substitute and his charge, the internet-sext-artist. Then there is the very cute story between Rika and her pairing. And the delicious drama bomb-polygon for the rest of them that makes this show even worth watching till the finish. (“Teenage girls and sex”? This is a dog whistle if I’ve ever seen one. Also sign me up already.)

I had to admit I read up on the wiki summary before going in, because seeing a bunch of comedically chaste girls talk about sex can only go so far. (I also wanted to know what dirty phrases Mocho got to say, it helps.) There needs to be that money shot, so to speak, in this emotional porn exercise. It is not an indictment of the show–it’s more just recognizing when you open a bowl of instant noodles, you’re gonna get instant noodles, even if it’s labeled Ichiran ramen or something fancy. Short of going into spoiler territory, let’s just say I’m all for a good student rebellion, and as always I am disappointed.

Looking back to this Okada formula that Araoto walked, it is clear that Okada has really crystalized that formula to a tee and is able to tweak it at will. She knows what will bring the squeal and how to poke us in our most sensitive moments. Now she just needs to go deeper.