Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

In Defense of Poor Taste

Isekai Shokudo is the story of the Resturaunt in Another World. I enjoy it a lot but the truth is, the restaurant is a Japanese establishment serving non-traditional (but by all means traditional by popular Japanese culture) Japanese cuisine. By Japanese cuisine I mean it in the “General Tso’s Chicken is American cooking” kind of way–may it be panko-battered fried prawn or a crepe stuffed with fruit–the style of cooking served by Nekoya’s chef is undoubtedly Japanese.

For better or worse, the dishes served in Isekai Shokudo is perfect for foreign tongues. I imagine most westerners will be fine with what’s served at Nekoya up to uh, the natto pasta?

Elves likes natto pasta?

Only Japanese people like natto. I mean this sincerely. It isn’t to say foreigners can’t appreciate its deep and earthy flavors or its unique mouthfeel, but there is a reason why we think sushi and ramen when we think Japanese cooking, and not, say, natto senbei. Or even Japanese-Italian cuisine FWIW.

I had some really good natto senbei on my trip to Oarai earlier this year and while it has an initial smell and taste that triggers a fight-or-flight response, the rest of the experience was surprisingly rewarding and full of umami. But gosh the barrier of entry is pretty high. I’ve had also normal natto, and chopped up natto. I would be lying to say I’m a fan, but I can eat it. But I’m not too far from this guy when considering odd foods. Like, for most Americans (whose tastes I probably have the best grasp), natto is probably as difficult to get into as a magical door that opens once per week in random fantasy locations.

As a culturally foreign guy who loves to eat I find Japanese cooking pretty much both the least exciting and most expert kind of cuisine and philosophy. In a land where good eats is everywhere, sometimes you feel everyone is more or less making iterative improvements on known winners rather than really making something bold, where porting local cooking to faraway towns to tease local tongues count as adventurous. To me selling natto to anyone outside of China, Korean and Japan, maybe, seems way more of an adventure than any Japanese endeavor.

So it is just a better question to ask: What kind of a fantasy is Isekai Shokudo? Is it a fantasy where people can unite over a good meal where needs of the body, mind and spirit are met? A fantasy that a Japanese-equivalent of a diner can suit the taste of its Tolkien-esqe cast? That Japanese cooking alone can achieve this? It’s not a hole I want to dig because I don’t believe it leads to anywhere nice, but I might have to anyway.

I mean, how many degrees removed is Isekai Shokudo from, uh, this? You can shift races and shift cultures, but in the end it’s the same foreign nonsense, same wishfully positive reactions, over the same mundane Japanese food. It is not a rejection of that, yeah, I sure can use a nice pudding ala mode right now, but this is not the healing foodie paradise that a person tainted with multiple cultural perspectives can really enjoy. At least, I can enjoy it until we run into NATTO OVER PASTA EEEEW. It’s not cultural imperialism, it’s just a flight of fancy too much for me, a wake up call, so to speak.


Some Thoughts on Magireco, HatchiNine, Msute & Milishita

I have some kind of a mid-season anime thing going but I also want to capture these tender sprouting opinions, fresh off the grill. Not to mention on some level, what’s the difference these days…

Theater Days I opined a good amount already here, so just to update, I’m definitely getting used to Kaori and Tsumugi. I guess they fit well, after all, as engineered, but what helps the most is seeing other fans going at it. Kaori particularly is the kind of idealistic being that engenders a quick reaction.

The first competitive event has come and gone. During the event period, I went to Otakon and was ranking in Million Live vanilla as well, so I only managed tier 2. Got my 3* PST Shiho and I was just happy that I managed a FC on Shooting Star MM, so I can clear all the checkboxes and make a neat screenshot.

How was it? As someone who expected fierce, greemas-like competition I got somewhat part of that in Theater Days, which should surprise no one who knows Million Live Producers. If anything I thought T3-5 were too casual, but my non-greemas producers did not fare that well either. Is this how Deresute is today?

All in all I think if I had the extra 3-4 hours in the ranking period I could have gotten T1 without any issues, but life just didn’t let me have them. So yeah, to me Theater Days ranking event was about the right amount of hard, which is not that hard, but hard enough to be a real challenge. I might not try for tier 1 again though (Matsuri rewards excepted).

Hachigatsu no Cinderella Nine, or Hachi9 as I spell it, is basically the Princess Nine or Taishou Yakyuu Musume of mobile games. I got turned on to it when I noticed Takagi Miyu was guesting on an episode of the mobile game’s radio show, hosted by one of the five Walkure girls whose name I can never remember (Nishida Nozomi). I checked out the visuals, the concept, and eventually the game itself. I was sold very hard, let’s just say. In short, Hachii is my aesthetics. It’s got that good mix of shoujo manga x sports manga x actual baseball thing. It’s snappy. It’s a game focused on character development, and not so much managing a roster or doing any rhythm game nonsense. Imagine if Oofuri was not about middle school boys holding hands? A-1 did a couple animated bits for it. The voice cast, asides from the aforementioned two, includes the full HRR cast and some more of those baseball nerds in association.

The game ultimately is what sold me. At the same time I did not spend much time in it, the game isn’t really primed hard for competition or is that community that hardcore. In a nutshell, the game is a pile of mini-game type things, each playing towards a type of statistics or currency that you accumulate as you go through what the game offers you. During events, typically what you do is trade stamina for a chance at a RNG against an opponent team, whichever team with higher score, boosts and other abilities included (including weather conditions and what not, and spot checking your roster against theirs, to keep it concise), usually wins each given game. Winning a game gets you prizes, which you can use invariably to either roll the gacha, or upgrade your players. Upgrading players is a complex thing in Hachi9. There’s straight up levels. There’s your player’s mood/condition. There are plus and minus traits you can upgrade or remove. You can awaken cards. You can level up skills and there are like a dozen of those for each given player, and skills benefit your team differently for each position your player happens to be playing.

The mini-games outside of actual matches are basically Msute-ish, because that’s also made by Akatsuki, the same developer as Hachi9. Basically a bulk of the game is story modes that you can unlock as your coaching rank goes up. During each story mode, your goal is to do the best possible (at the end of each story mode run you will get a letter grade) in order to reap the most rewards, as more rewards allows you to unlock/upgrade your characters more. Each run of the story mode is broken into chapters. Each chapter is a series of commu interspersed with a training game (think FGO-style card picking but with a deck you build with 9 players instead of 3, rarity included). Each round of card picking reflects 1 week out of the full time period, which usually runs for 9 months or so (9 * 4 worth of moves). As you pick cards you increase your 3 base stats (str dex end I guess?). Those are consumed in order to unlock traits at the end of each story mode run. While you pick cards, each round, some players are eligible for leveling up, and the more powerful you pick for a particular suit (red orange green purple) the more they level up. Each time a player levels up, you get into this second minigame that lets you try for these colored orbs which also is prereq to improve your team’s chances at the tournament at the end of the story mode, and as material for unlocking traits. The better you do in both of these minigames, the better you will be rewarded at the end. Some weeks you don’t train, but you play games instead, so those are just  your typical vs computer matches.

That’s a very high level description of the main minigame mechanisms. I also glossed over a ton of details, and probably have some inaccuracies since I am still quite new at that game. Awakened cards go up in rarity, which is cool, but this also means actual SSRs are a little bit devalued. Melding a copy of a card (or something appropriate by the same player) also unlocks stuff, so dupes are welcomed. By the way, players call you director (kantoku) in Hachi9, which I thought was the final straw that broke my “THIS IS SUCH MY GAME” back.

This brings us to IDOLM@STER: SideM – LIVE ON STAGE. It’s made by Akatsuki, and so far most people are familiar with its bond-based minigame/stage otoge combination by now. It’s definitely much more casual if you came from Deresute, but I personally think this is more what IDOLM@STER is about. It was not a pure otoge, and somehow it has become more and more so, out of laziness or limitation, whatever. But we can do better. The bigger question is can the market appreciate it?

I’m not going to play Msute seriously, but I did the “reset marathon” thing and start with a SSR Tsubasa. It’s a good way to learn about SideM, so I am just doing that. Funny enough all these other mobage is just taking my time away from this one. I can say just by messing with it for a couple days, I have more than doubled my SideM idol knowledge, LOL.

On that note, the system in Msute feels right at home coming from Hachi9, and it comes down to enjoying the mini games and the stuff available as story and character development. The gameplay is not hard but I’m no otoge player so it works for me.

Lastly, a bit about Magireco, or the Madoka mobage. The full name is Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story: Magia Record. So Magireco. It’s basically the same game as Fate Grand Order, but shelled with widefaces. What’s different is that it’s an improved version of FGO all around. It also has one of the best gacha animation I’ve seen, where when you draw a magical girl you get her transformation sequence. Too bad the draw rates are terrible like FGO.

Shamelessly so, the main “Mashu” character is Mocho, so I’m playing it. Shamelessly because Aniplex put Trysail in this game front and center. In this game you play the role of a fledgling QB and guide your group of magical girls to…something. Well, it’s Madoka. The graphics and visuals reflects all that we have known and come to appreciate about the franchise regarding magical girls.

I guess the last note to make on Magireco is that the developer has built a check in the app to see if the app has been installed from the play store, which makes sideloading tricky. Nothing you can’t get around. I personally had some issues but was able do continue playing after cloning the app. Maybe I’ll fix it in Japan or something.


Eventing Do’s and Do Not’s

Since I sort of just tossed up my thoughts there, some people might want an easier-to-digest version.

  • Do what you like.
    • The problem is some people like to do things that are stupid/dumb and are context insensitive. So for those people, no, don’t do what you like if it’s those dumb things.
    • There are things that are common sense. It’s a vague and grey area so I’ll leave it at that.
      • But know that it can be a grey area, so have some grace/mercy when dealing with such.
    • Try to not be KY. We are KY I know but do your best.
    • …and some of you are just trolling, so welp.
    • Unfortunately this also determines if you are yakkai or not. Honestly? It doesn’t matter, from a western point of view.
  • Learn about the time/context/place of the thing you are at, and the things you want to do.
    • Wotagei is a type of nerd dance style and is generally inappropriate at a public venue, outside of chika idol shows, anikura, etc.
    • For anime/2D idol/anison fests, calls are appropriate usually, and even if you don’t want to do them, sometimes you should at least learn about them and do them for show at critical junctures?
    • Learn about the acts and the show you are at, if you can. Why are you there, anyway? Festival events are different than solo lives for this reason, usually.
      • Go prepared. Learn ahead of time. Watch some live footage. Read concert reports. Get an idea of calls if not learn them outright.
      • Send flowers, bring gifts, make call books, whatever. But these are bonus round items, don’t get your undies in a wad if these things don’t work out.
        • Definitely don’t make trouble if they don’t. Instead, think positively as a fan, what would you do to make the best of it?
      • Meet other fans! Socialize!
      • Don’t get hung up by penlights or stuff that are secondary to your enjoyment of the show.
      • If you learn what you should do, you can also avoid what you shouldn’t do. And maybe, just maybe, you can get more enjoyment out of these events.
  • Don’t cause trouble, especially if you are a foreigner in a foreign land, but when you invariably do so, just play dumb and be yourself :)
    • To paraphrase a good teacher, if we are to enjoy these gifts that are the reasons in which we attend events, the best way to get along is with love, respect and charity.
  • It’s okay to [insert any Frequently Asked thing here]. Just don’t do it when you know it’ll cause problems. If you don’t know, it’s better err on the safe side. Or you could always ask some people who are also going to the same event, or the management if necessary.
  • Bonus: Don’t get hung up on jizos or house tigers. It’s a waste of your time, it’s a waste of my time. People have the right to enjoy themselves by doing nothing (or even sitting down at a seated venue), or by having a good time “moving” (assuming it adheres to the rules). Yes, there’s a fear that young people or people who don’t know any better may get the wrong idea, but this fear will never end if you let it control you from having a good time. Yeah, there will be people who go too far and need to be disciplined, removed, what have you, but don’t let that get in the way of your fellowship.
    • But it does make good whine material and troll bait.
    • As Tadokoro Azusa said, “So what?”
  • Extra Credit: Go to different live events, learn what it is in different countries, for mainstream and indie bands, for EDM, metal, pop, rock, country, classical, opera, whatever. Widen your perspective. Go to a Hanshin Tigers game and watch real cheering.

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.