Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

The Chupacabra: Million Live Remains a Little Wild

In a blink of an eye, it’s already June? Almost.

In the past 3 months, I have taken to the land of streaming (Twitch, Youtube, and the underground where content ID is just a murmur) to stream some seiyuu live events. Knowing that every concert is going to get cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a bunch of people decided to watch IDOLM@STER Million Live concert content along online, so this group watch happened on almost every weekend leading into Memorial Day weekend here in the States.

The march from 1st live to today is a good idea to even the official folks running the franchise, so they are doing it in the month of June. Mind you I assume they knew of nothing of what we’ve been doing. Given how everything event-wise is shut down, musicians are also going online to show their stuff, either past performances or putting together new shows online-only. This much is the new reality in the age of COVID-19. On twitter I have seen other Ps watching old lives on their own.

With the first two shows out of the way this past weekend, it was definitely a nice salve for hardcore fans of the series, and also nice for casuals to join in to see something they might not have seen before, and get context from others following along the stream. Some of the staff and cast also tweet as we go.

This all precipitated when Million Live 7th anniversary live was cancelled about 3 weeks prior, and in its place, which were supposed to take place in the first weekend of May, were two live streams, each hosted by a cast member featuring the rest of the day’s cast in a zoom chat. The other main staff members also show up at the end on teleconference. Some announcement were dropped but none more shocking than the new song, Do the IDOL. This track is the promised fan-selection from those who watched Million Live Theater Days kanshasai in January, in which fans watching in person and online can vote for the theme of this song–techno and chupakabura were selected, so here we are.

In the continuing era of war of idols, mobile games clash with billions of dollars on the table in that ever-changing video game economy. It seems prudent, if not necessary, to continue to push forward the breadth and depth of the type of music, the quality of performances, and have genre challenges to existing works. It’s also important to keep pace and play up your core experience. Between the recent CG election and the Million Live stuff above, that seemed to play out plainly. These games are rather well-polished and take a well-funded team. It takes cohesive and compelling artistic vision that can sell both to management and customers. It’s about incremental QOL like the deresute monthly pack, as well as keeping what makes the franchise unique, as in, uh, the Chupacabra.

Million Live needs to be wild. With all the announcements due to 7th live now on drip over the next 4 weekends, we’ll see what is left in the gas tank after 7 turbulent years. It doesn’t help that we will be driving down (or again, in my case) that nostalgia lane, reminding us how it was in the “good old days.” It’s like taking stock and remembering this side of the franchise, when we’re just grinding Alive Factor on the other side? There’s a big surprise at the end of this road, in terms of the 3rd Theater Days anniversary content, and I’m hoping it’s something nice, and not a brick wall, LOL.

IDOLM@STER Concepts: Tantou vs. Favorite

In the age of Stan and Waifu, there has long been many different ways to say “love” in all sorts of contexts; forget about the Alaskan words for snow (it’s an urban legend of sorts anyway). The way the Greeks did it is what I was weaned on but in this day and age there are more ways to say the same things than ever. And it has been always the case as far as history went.

It just dawned on me on a practical difference between what IM@S Ps say “tantou” versus which idols a producer may simply like. To some Ps, there are no differences between the two. To others, they are entirely different things. And from where I stand there are no wrong ways to go about it.

(“Tantou” here means “in charge of.” A producer is someone in a position of responsibility over a project. In this case, it’s an artist or idol. It is not unusual for IDOLM@STER content to put the producer in charge of a project in which artists of the agency is then selected to participate under said project. If you talk to Japanese producers, the proper way to refer to your cartoon waifu is tantou, and while you may or may not be a wretched twitter critter, we all know what you mean.)

There are however technical differences. One is the basic understanding that IDOLM@STER is a game franchise in which the player is the producer, and the idols the player selects to literally produce, well, are the idols the player produces. Sometimes this is literally every idol in the game, sometimes this is even more (not all idols are really in the games if you think about it), and sometimes it’s just whatever the P wants.

If we extrapolate it from selecting an idol in games to engagement in general, the idols I produce are just the ones I will go out of my way to learn more, to read up on, to research, to think about, and to create content for. After all, it is all we can do to literally “produce” a fictional character. This is pretty much the same way anyone stans anyone else, but maybe there are some differences. Maybe there will be another post for that.

The idols from IDOLM@STER that I like, however, I don’t necessarily produce. Maybe for those characters, I just enjoy the content and call it a day.

This is most evident when you participate in IDOLM@STER content like a big live event. Your favorite or tantou characters, odds are, will only take up a fraction of the full show. The rest of the time you probably are still engaged in the content, even if it isn’t your favorite or it has little relationship to the idols you produce. Sometimes this does mean you might take a seat. But also, a concert is a concert, a show is a show–it’s enjoyable to watch and be a part of.

So while I don’t produce Syoko, I still have a lot of respect for the Matsuda twins and an affinity to the brand of rock that is X Japan. This is why the Kurenai cover during CG7th Osaka was a really special experience personally, especially given the venue, the setup, and the way things played out. These kinds of considerations were the reasons why I was even there in the first place.

I have been following Cinderella Girls since my initial baptism by MOIW 2014. What struck me as odd now is that while many idols from 346P are appealing to me personally, I don’t want to produce any of them. It’s a big reason why I gave up playing Starlight Stage, and also it made the franchise easier to deal with when I treat it like this bag of content that pops out hit beats once in a while, at arm’s length.

I try to go to a show every year still, because I do enjoy this branch of IM@S and I still know something about them. Plus, I never stopped being a seiyuu otaku and IDOLM@STER content is still some of the best kind of seiyuu content out there. An IM@S show (and this applies even to all the other branches) are often elaborate productions. Cinderella Girls lives are the most elaborate of them all, both because of the success (popularity and commercially) of the franchise and the style of the content that is conducive of big, bright, shiny productions at a large scale. That the franchise shows have been dome-sized the past couple years actually plays to the strength of the content and the material. That is contrary to my normal preferences; to me, domes are a negative otherwise–you are far from the action, it’s very crowded, the acoustics and view often sucks, and the seats suck too usually.

On paper, maybe I can call myself, at best, a Miho/PCS producer, because at least I roll for them. I also find myself leaning towards Tsuda and Tanezaki a lot, at least as far as seiyuu affinities go among 346P cast members. It is a production of conveniences. But I produces way more back home in 765Pro, which hopefully my actions speak for themselves.

The Weather Girl, Weathering With You

Now that the United States is screening the latest Makoto Shinkai flick, we can dispense with the spoiler warnings and realize that thanks to the failed Oscar bid, Americans got nothing in return for waiting to watch Weathering With You, after the rest of the developed world have seen it. As I write this in late January, 2020, the movie has already been out since July 19, 2019, or half-year or so ago. Did you know how many times I’ve been to Japan since? Joke aside, we are long due this next installment of Shinkai’s usual bag of tricks.

As much as I find Shinkai’s love stories cloying at this point, I also see that his stories and ideas blossom most comfortably in that cloaking. Weathering With You did a serviceable job to get the audience to root for the two. The cast is colorful enough and they came together nicely. Shinjuku is wild on a rainy day, let along with rain magic (in context of the story) and even more rain magic (in context of Shinkai’s brand of animation). Add in some artistic urban decay, a funny car chase (uuuukeeeruuu), and Shinkai finally getting his anime directoral balls on (off? down?) in order to blow up Tokyo.

But that is not what makes Shikai’s movies resonate with me. Tenki no Ko wandered around the comfort zone a bit and gave us ambiguous characters with ambiguous internal struggles, and we were outside the comfort zone for much of the viewing. Perhaps it’s not by much, but we never knew exactly everything about Hina and Hodaka. Were they good people? They were just innocent young people. We watched over them with great interests, but will things turn out okay?

Which brings us to the ending. I loved this ending. I love it because, I think, it is saying something that I personally believe millennials need to hear. It is also admittedly a tad paternalistic. Maybe Shinkai is also being more Dad than ever (although he is still ways behind from Kamiyama in this regard). But, anyways, the message: in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Sure, the dramatic climax for Hina and Hodaka was how the couple decide to cope with Hina’s miko magic, in balance with their very wet problems. But it turns out just because Tokyo is underwater, life had no reason to stop going, so it does just keep going. And in truth those two things don’t really have anything to do with each other. Or rather, it is not the point at all if Hina survives or dies; it is the point that Hina and Hodaka live/lived as humans do. And to put a large exclamation point by sinking Tokyo is one great way to tap into that global warming energy for thematic empowerment.

I also think that’s exactly why a great message for people today. Pressure and anxiety about the future will do nothing to make things better in the future. Worrying will not add a day to your life. The challenges that face us as a society or race or as nations are always going to be daunting when we see them from an individual’s point of view. As individuals, only by making the right decisions and acting on them does anything moves forward at all–and we can’t do that unless our hearts are in the right place.

Weathering With You shows us the subtle difference between doing things out of love and doing things out of pressure, anxiety, fear, and stress. The characters themselves do these things at different points in the story, may it be Suga kicking Hodaka out to protect his legal status or pulling out a gun. Weathering With You makes a bunch of value statements, but it also shows that on the grand scale, humanity’s problems are fairly insignificant; that our day-to-day troubles are little in light of massive global shifts (like flooding tokyo), yet all the more, we can enjoy the little things. Well, instant meals and conbini food in Japan are no joke, so maybe it’s not as little as it seems?

In essence, it doesn’t matter if Hina can affect weather, or that Hodaka ran from his troubles, or that Natsumi aided a juvenile delinquent from police pursuit. The reaffirming message that focuses on doing well on each other is the funny way that we see the world upend itself, where we can finally divorce poetic justice from doing the right thing, because who knows what the future is really going to hold anyway? Isn’t doing the right thing its own reward? In a world going to hell in a handbasket, isn’t it nice to shrug off this chain of causality if we want to continue to encourage the next generation to do good; a generation of windmill-tilting idealists, working for ideals, not tit-for-tat, which is utmost good in a world with fewer tats left to work for. Your boomer relatives may have crap the bed, but it doesn’t really entitle the rest of us to behave a certain way, or any way. And that realization frees you (or in Hina’s case, Japanese ritual human sacrifices).

After the time-honored tradition of destroying Tokyo in anime, it is good to see Shinkai does it in a grand style. Between the lost generation and the cultural trauma of the post-war, does trauma really even matter anymore? I think that is the message, and to me this is the uplifting push and it exceeds the power of healing alone.

I’m rather endeared to the Japanese title of Weathering With You, which is simply Tenki no Ko (天気の子), similar to how Hina is referred to by randos online, looking at her web 2.0 vibe job listing. It also echos with me because the film was told from the perspective of Hodaka, the male lead, who in some ways does treat her simply like just another teenage love interest in another Shinkai love story. Yes, she’s that girl. Yes, he’s watching the world burn with her. There is no better way.

PS. Speaking of flying to Japan, some of you might have watched the Science Saru flick that is posed to open in the States in February, because it’s screening on ANA’s in-flight entertainment systems at least. In a lot of ways the same narrative language is used in that film too, so I think it would be fun to compare and contrast the two stories, both cloaked in a simple romantic shell.

PPS. Tenki no Ko seiyuu_joke is strong.

PPPS. I need to watch High School Fleet the Movie…

Blogger’s Plays on Words Delayed by 3 Months, to Burn Chidori RSC at Its End

Rifle Is Beautiful misses the mark.

I actually think he is more right than wrong, but Evirus wiffed: Rifle Is Beautiful hit a bull’s eye when it comes to portraying the high school attitude about beam rifling, both as an intramural and varsity exercise, and as human beings, trying to point a heavy light stick, at a tiny target, for a forty-five minute stretch.

In fact his attitude of it is a good example, classic even, of how “sports anime” ruins anime about sports. There is nothing to get excited about when it comes to the nationals with beam rifling; it’s goddamn beam rifling, folks! It’s not astoundingly clear, but it seemed fairly obvious that the purpose of the work is not to create a fiction that is actually about the excitement of moving on from regional to national. It’s pretty funny that he compares it to Girls und Panzer, I guess, but this is how western regurgitation out-of-context feels like.

This is probably just a problem about our postmodern society, where some dudes writing about Ueda Reina’s character don’t even get how beam rifling 4koma adaptations can really be actually about the subject matter, but coated in genres that have now wholly taken on new meanings in this century you do have to dig around to find what the story is actually about. On one hand, Chidori RSC is a Tonari no Young Jump property, which makes it into a weird kind of… webcomic, I guess. It feels more at home in Manga Time Kirara. Rifle Is Beautiful is also too true-to-real-life to be truly fiction–think about K-ON and how that resonate with people; despite it being a fuwa-fuwa, utopic fantasy that is too grounded in reality to get excited. That it is a 4koma comic about high school girls doing rather mundane (as mundane as beam rifling is I suppose) also make you think about what exactly is Rifle Is Beautiful is about. It is a depiction of reality through the “Kirara” lens, more so than any true fantasy; if there is a fantasy in Chidori RSC, it is that it is a bit too utopic.

And I think it is pretty clear–it would be uncouth, to say the least, to complain how it is”[f]ailing as a sports anime” as Rifle Is Beautiful’s biggest flaw, when the tension, the excitement and what makes quoting Sensa-do even sensible in his post is missing completely. It’s not in the source material either. I would conclude, then, it isn’t the point of the exercise; much like the vibe of official beam rifling meets. The vibe I get, at least based on watching the show, is more like walking into an exam room; you have 45 minutes to fill out 60 questions. That, is excruciatingly authentic. If anything, I watched this show to the (almost very) end is a great achievement and a pretty awesome demo on the power of anime and manga. Sure, at times it can be excruciatingly boring as well, but blame reality I guess. Actually I would imagine reality is still the more so tedious than this fictive depiction. I wasn’t really bored by it, but I can easily see some reasonable people being bored by it.

On the basis of its qualitative attributes, I have always thought Chidori RSC being a show in which a lot of people won’t like. Much like how in the upcoming 2020 Olympics, the only people excited about the Beam Rifle competitions are people who were always interested in Beam Rifling, and fans of Rifle Is Beautiful. It is a bad take to call something not fantastic enough for being too real about a thing basically nobody has ever been real about. I suppose we can criticise Chidori RSC for possibly failing to make a set of elements come together–story, characters, pacing, excitement, humor, whatever, but I think if the goal was to produce something life-like, cute, unusual & varied, and about the ins-and-outs of beam rifling and its ennui, I think we got it in spades.

2020 Vision: Trends and Wishlists

Originally I was going to write up a recap for 2019 (and finish my recap of 2018), but I just didn’t get around to it in late December due to work and other unexpected things taking up time and attention. This January, I’ll try to work on them.

The plan was also, instead of a list or list of lists, I was going to write in bigger strokes some of the trends and the big picture view of some stuff; thus.

For starters, we are right in the thick of the next wave of original content localization, with more free-to-play mobile games being ported to English than ever. FGO being a top-10 gross revenue game in 2019 is a big deal, one which doesn’t even seem odd as Japan has always been a powerhouse when it comes to video game/electronic entertainment. But for those of us who followed this franchise from the start, it is a surprise that no one could have really seen 20 years ago.

The meaning behind it is that unlike manga and light novels, we are doing an 180–these incredibly (comparatively) effort and cost-intensive properties can have their showdown across the Pacific because they also make a truck load of money. Not even One Piece or (and?) Naruto can make a billion US bucks in a year (and yet they are still gated heavily by their publishers…oh well). Let along random B-grade light novels. Or any print books for that matter.

On the other hand, it’s easy to translate books and manga–that’s why escalation is so rampant. And it’s relatively easy to localize anime and the non-online kind of game content. As an IM@S fan I know all too well the problem when Bandai Namco is your game’s publisher, judge and executioner all in one, and that multinational beast is going to face some challenges in this ever-evolving landscape where there’s a lot of money to be had only if they could agilely maneuver to fight for a piece of the biggest pie in all of electronic entertainment. So Money is only motivation–the rest is incredibly difficult work (in some cases).

How that trickles down to the nuances of why someone loves some anime character is harder to see, and that’s where we introspect with our 20/20 glasses on, looking into what has happened to gleam some insight to produce, hopefully, good foresight.

Eventing culture is both being normalized and regurgitated overseas. The best example I can give is the flower stand thing. Like, why do people do it at cons? Does TGS have flower stands? I guess for the event? It is kind of weird to do it for the guests of the event… But as per the usual case with weeaboo culture, this is basically the morpheus strip where the West take whatever pieces of the culture they want from the East and repurposes it for their own, usually out of context (or only in the context of Reddit, Youtubers, and random blogs). It is what it is on some level, and it’s mostly fine as long as it’s only kids blowing disposable income to stan some Asian celeb, and remain mostly fun and games.

And that’s just flower stands. I think there are other examples, but let’s keep it under control and make sure it doesn’t cost pain or suffering, or even minor irritation, folks.

Thanks to largely Bushiroad pushing their more niche, event-tie-in content into English, we also see more of it via their guests appearances and Chara Expo USA. It is still a different story regarding localizing concerts, but live viewings seems to be taking off.

If we think of anime and games (and as I write this sitting in a hotel at Arizona, attending TaiyouCon, pro baseball) as what connects the West and the East, the long terms growth of anime films (both the snobby kind and the TV anime excuse kind) necessitates the same distribution overseas. The growth of anime movies for struggling theaters out in North America is a bright sign. I just think how the Konosuba film did in 2019, and of course, Promare, covers that spectrum quite nicely. It is also still a shame that Americans won’t get to see Shinkai’s new film until 2020 but the rest of the world have already put Weathering With You to bed now. I think that’s just because it is a stupid business reason but it is still unfortunate.

Speaking of the Konosuba film, some anime con better bring Takahashi Rie to America in 2020. Isn’t it amazing that so many theaters in North America screened that little pre-movie intro interview?

From the con front, I think we are well in ripe territory for competent, for-profit entities to provide actually good anime con experiences to adult fans in the anime side of things. In my view, the biggest barrier so far is actually that profit-seeking motive trying to outthink execution with galaxy-brain approaches. It is much sensible to copy what already works and just focus on how to execute better. And I don’t mean just con runners, but also service providers for cons. I think we still have a long ways to go when many cons aren’t even done picking the lowest hanging fruits. As attendees become more sophisticated and well-off there will be more headroom for growth.

In this decade, I hope, there ought be more scalable way to make sure that basics like line management and registration are not messed up for any con. We were already there for the most part in the 2010s, and even more so as fan con management services provide more layers of services such as RFID badges and badge mailing. We really shouldn’t have ticketing server screw-ups, even for high-demand weeb concerts (and better ways to handle those as well other than just an online rush). There are just not too many events with that many attendees.

This is also on top of existing developments. For example the cruise cons, the resort hotel cons, and that fans are doing their own hanger-on events on top of cons. Wota Peace Party is one such thing, and I wish there are easier ways for enterprising fans to plug into a con and cons to help those fans leverage these experiences so they can run their own “panels” so to speak. There are no reasons to be strangers, you and I. It’s about time for the Room Party to grow up, and maybe that could happen in the next 10 years.

As for con programming, I also think it is high time we actually import Asian best practices. I want more engaging guest panels based on their entertainment skill strengths. If Aniplex is going to fly Yuki Aoi to NYC, it would be a damn crying shame to not have her perv in front of your attendees. That’s what all the fans know her for! I mean why else did you spend all that money? What for? There are other examples like this. I know it can be hard to actually think about the content of the panel from the perspective of putting up a show–most industry style panels are closer to marketing to exec decks than actual fun stuff, but there is no excuse to put on $10000s of HR into an offsite location and just have them read off a spreadsheet. It is a poor use of money, time and effort. I’m glad at least some folks get this, but please put some of that money into use to bring us enjoyable context that properly flex the guests charm points. You want to make fans, you want them to be engaged, so it’s time to go all the way. Don’t fly 1000s of miles to meet us and only stumble on your last step.

Also related to this but coming from the other side of the world, maybe the next 10 years is when Japan-hosted otaku experiences will actually take off. Or I hope. The Love Live concert tours (and the upcoming Numazu tour) is something that Japan has really tried to do with wide ranges of outcomes. More often than not it doesn’t work, but guided tours are an easy way to bridge the gap, given if the fandom is old enough and reach critical mass of eventers. The work I’ve been involved in the past 10 years with showing some Producers the ropes probably helped, but the only horn worth tooting is the greater Bushiroad-Brand fandom that brought in the folks through their work with both the mothership and their fellow fans. Eventers all across the English-speaking world also helped to cobble together enough information to funnel folks far and wide into Japan, paving the way for more to follow. I think it’s rewarding to see the little drops of participation all of you contributed bearing some long-term results. And this just goes back to why some folks are so hung up on flower stands LOL.

Time to update my 2020 Eventing post!