Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

Nerd-Factual Accuracy in Fiction

Last season there was this anime called Cells at Work. It was a fun(?) story about how different cells in a human’s body can be personified into the usual anime characters and interact somewhat based on their perceived biological functions. Swallowing foreign substances and breaking them down become the equivalent of hacking at a monster with a knife, for example.

Cutting to the chase, I dropped the show because of its depiction of the digestive system as a volcanic pit of acids. There are no good bacterias the show, ever (at least at where I dropped the show half way through). And frankly that’s just not how it actually works. The way bacteria is depicted in Cells at Work suggests a particular view about the body that is a little too germaphobic for me. Plus, isn’t it just a really “derpy” way to detail, say, House? We are seeing some common human illnesses depicted in epic proportions. Maybe it’s kind of nice to see a message about cellular mutation happening dozens of times a day inside the body of an adult but, I don’t know if I dig this worldview. It puts too much emphasis on “us” versus “them”; when at the microscopic level, we’re all just a bunch of biochemical mechanisms. Mutations always will happen, and humans evolve because of it–it’s such a cartoony black & white take in Cells.

It’s a lot more offensive to my senses than, say, how in Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai’s (Senshun Butayarou (the series) henceforth) description of the thought experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat. Like, okay, you are 90% there but you miss the big fat quantum quality to it. It is the crux of countless FTL theory talk or why giant robots could be made as spoken by countless middle schoolers. I don’t really mind it that much, other than I wish mass media would at least get the science right. If the idea was observation affects the experiment, then that point was made, which is why I’d give Senshun Butayarou at least a passing grade.

For a high school romantic comedy revolving around supernatural mysteries, though, framing the inquiry with a thought experiment is a classy take. I always liked those X-Files episodes. The wiggle space of a different, unexplained phenomenon makes using a thought experiment to explain how the protagonists figure things out makes a lot of sense as long as they don’t rely on it too much. One could say Senshun Butayarou crossed that line, but maybe not far enough.

PS. Slowly unpacking new anime of Q42018, but I’m getting there. I left a lot of Q3 shows in the dust because of my trip to Taiwan and Hokkaido in late September. I’m not sure I’ve recovered from that yet (thus a 30+day gap on blogging). I only learned about “Thunder Thigh Takarada” the other day but I did not know canon fetishism baked into the design could spur this kind of outpouring. Gridman is coincidentally good, so maybe that contributes.

Release the Spyce Preview @ Otakon 2018

I was still working on my Otakuthon post before I went to Otakon, so uh, here’s the timely nugget first.

Otakon 2018 featured two premieres, High Score Girl and Release the Spyce. The latter seemed more feasible schedule-wise so I attended it. That said, I was a couple minutes late so I walked into the opening action set piece.

I wanted to write about it because this show is really up my alley. It’s a fun spy/ninja piece about a bunch of young women who gain superhuman powers after biting on special spice. Spice, as in stuff you put in food, not the drug from Dune. The main character is a 11th grader who stumbled upon the secret organization in her town, Tsukikage, after her 99.99% percentile perception powers let her spot some shadowy figures flying around rooftops one night.

The lead character, Momo, who is voiced by Anzai Yukari, is a “shopping street kid” type character who seemed to lost her father to something. I won’t go too much into it but a truck ton of foreshadowing was laid down during the 2-episode pilot. And yes, it is a 2-episode sort of thing, which is why they showed 2 episodes at the con I assume.

If you have been following the marketing of Spyce over in Japan, which I have in a very casual way, you would know they have had some live stages featuring the voice cast. The main gang of the story is the Tsukikage group of ninjas Momo becomes in association with, and they’re joined in pairs by master-student setups, where the girl each have to train a successor since once they get too old, the spice super power gimmick stops working. This is partly how Spyce features a really solid of current-day voice actresses. Only a handful has been credited online, but after seeing the full credit after ep2 I can say that this is a show that scores well on that front. Well, it’s a Pony Canyon thing I guess.

The other non-spoiler-ish info I can share about the plot, I guess, is that there is an enemy group opposing Tsukikage. And it seems they’re full of female voice overs, too. That seems like the initial main conflict for now.

There are a lot of pieces of the setting that tickled my fancy–the use of curry for example. There are a lot of spice-themed things in Release the Spyce. There are also some actual spy kind of things, like manipulative interpersonal skills and 007-esqe gadgets. There are some solid parkour animation here and there, and the action leans on movement more than clashing of weapons. The 2-part pilot even ended with a car chase. It’s also the feeling you get when you witness the two sides of a pun moving in slow collision in the form of a TV anime. It’s like when galaxies swallow each other up in the course of millennia, despite being an exciting astronomical event. Or maybe a super slow-mo video of a vehicle test crash. I like it when a pun takes on a life of its own I guess.

Momo and her shishou Yuki (CV: Numakura Manami) use a stick of cinnamon-like thing as their power trigger. One of the other girl uses a bay leaf I think. There are a total of 6 active ninjas in Tsukikage as far as episode 2, and each of the student-teacher pair use the same spice, for up to 3 different spices. The media-mix property is already getting a novelization and manga adaptation since earlier this year, so it’s probably written in there.

I’ll leave the big spoiler on twitter. Well, big on impact, very small on substance. Anyways, the series is slated to air in Japan in October. No word on international streaming yet, but I’m guessing whoever typically Pony Canyon works with being the good bet (HiDive?). The full credit roll of the two-part screening was translated into English, so I’m guessing that’s the case.

Random Thoughts, June 2018

Just some free wheeling thoughts.

  1. Eventing is expensive, but it is a good stress relief for me.
  2. Unfortunately eventing causes backlogs on my weekly viewing. I’m slowly breaking them down, but I really need to prioritize Hinamatsuri, so it’s up next. When I went to Japan last month and saw Rietion do her solo stuff, it was really good that I had been up to date on Hinamatsuril. It also had been good that I was fond of the show, and her character Anzu. It made the event just that much more better. But what was surprising was that Hinamatsuri wasn’t even the most crass anime this season. That title belongs to Golden Kamuy.
  3. Golden Kamuy is a western. I didn’t know I wanted a western as an anime until I started to watch this. It’s a great blend of cartoon humor (of the dick and poop variety) with good world building and a compelling overall story, but also these elements that are undeniably Western, such as a “white man” working with a “native woman” surviving outside of the civilization. It’s even got a murder hotel episode. It also makes me think of the Quintin Tarantino films that evoke this kind of a feel but going at it via “cool” rather than “soul.”
  4. Soul is what I’d use to describe Megalobox. It’s a bit of a regressive work thematically because it wants to have two dogs fight each other, no matter what. If salvation of our souls come down to this kind of depiction it is no surprise humanity can’t have nice things. At the same time it is a pretty somber homage to the whole Ashita no Joe concept, even not including the literal homages. The package overall felt like it has a lot of soul going for it, whatever that means, so I guess it is okay. I just slightly struggle with its science fiction roots.
  5. Maybe this is kind of like Hisomaso, where the story is very clearly about women in the JSDF (and in Japan generally) with what they do with their lives, but I cannot be bothered with it because of 1) fighter jet dragons, 2) fighter jet dragons, 3) this aesthetics + fighter jet dragons. So goes the level of discourse.
  6. Which is also to say, Shokugeki no Soma this season does a better justice of Hokkaido than Golden Kamuy arguably, and that’s a feat worth celebrating. In as much I want to give a SO to food celebrity Tony Bourdain and his passing, it is works like his, and this, that really brings out the soul of why people eat the way they do.
  7. Recently I’ve seen people refer to IP/cartoons/games with idol characters as idol things. I see why, but I feel people are not really using those terms to describe those things while understanding the differences between the two. It bothers me because the performance of people pretending to be fictional characters is different than the performance of people who are, as described best as, idols. An actor acting as an idol is going to do the same thing as real idols on stage, but they’re not the same. One goes home from a job, the other is in actual idol industry. More importantly, one is fiction, the other is reality. At best it is some kind of reality where fiction plays a role, and it deserves to be recognized differently than the other kind of reality that I’m referring to.
  8. This is also a funny way where fiction and reality blurs, and a lot of Westerners don’t seem to realize the difference–it is admittedly not the easiest difference to keep in mind, and part of it has to do with the way language evolves. This headline is one example of what I’m talking about, and it’s probably the most egregious mistake I’ve seen (partly because it’s just wrong, like if this was written by a JP site it would probably get corrected by industry). On twitter people casually use the term but that’s where it also happens.
  9. Otakon this year will coincide with a demonstration involving that Charlottesville white supremacist group in downtown DC, which will likely draw not just counter-protesters, but a lot of police. It’s reasonable to be aware and concerned about it, but it is unlikely to repeat the same tragedy last summer because, frankly, the police failed big time in Charlottesville. The DC police will unlikely repeat–it has protestors just about year-round.
  10. Otakon…I guess summer is here. Back to worrying about the party I will throw at AX and how I’m dying trying to break even! LOL. Are you going to AX? Please come to my party and have a good time. We are even trying to bring a new JP DJ to the lineup and I’m dying to announce him.

Enjoying the Grancrest Wars

Oh, hey, finally that Sakugablog post on the Record of Grancrest Wars. I say finally, because this show has always been a wild ride on the animation front since its early days last season. The visuals are laden with artistry, if unpolished, and you wouldn’t think twice about it since the story runs on at a neck-breaking pace.

A hair of spoiler material ahead, but nothing that ought to matter.

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Don’t Be the Past; Join the Future

Gacha is here to stay. It’s not going away.

I think it’s really cool and interesting, given my vantage point as a westerner into Japanese (and in a lesser degree, Korean and Chinese) mobile games, to see the wide span of people who stand on the scale of micro transactional free-to-play business model. In some countries, for example, lootboxes are banned. That’s got nothing on the elaborate gacha schemes Japan’s mainline nerd gaming is running on. It is also pretty clear that resistance to this model is gaining some steam over there, as examples of ruined bank accounts get tens of thousands of retweets in the form of youtubers showing off. But in the macro scale, nothing is slowing the drum beat.

When you give your game creators three times the money for the same amount of work, as Japanese gamers gave up as much in mobile gaming than three times their population in US mobile gamers, you will encourage more people to make video games. This is fundamental and it is the rising tide. Console gaming is still going to stay–everything is going to stay. It’s just that more people will be making games for the market where the money is. It’s just that more PR, more attention, more news, and more glam, will be going towards these new games because that’s where the money is. Maybe the Pacific is still a great barrier in terms of what hits mainstream and what doesn’t, but it’s just a matter of time before gacha continues to invade beyond its early footholds that may be a Final Fantasy or Fire Emblem.

The reaction should not be fear, it should be trying to understand how this mechanism can work in video games, in as much as anything else can work in a video game. We survived 3D graphics, Faye Wong music, Disney, the shovelware era, e-sports, Jack Thompson, Valve, and Shemune 3 is even getting made. I don’t think gacha is a bad thing–it’s more like bluetooth.

I see it this way. When Bluetooth took off as a technology in practice, it was in the 90s and early 00s when people used these obnoxiously cheap headsets from China with their Motorola RAZRs. They were literally that, cheap headsets from China. They were not known for quality until when Apple got the “courage” to ditch wired connector for audio and got in their own BT implementation in recent years. The technology has always been there, it just needed companies to better implement it. Radio waves of digital signals are always just that. If your wireless connection can download hi-res audio flacs, then there’s no reason why it can’t go straight into a DAC in/by your ears. However today people associate BT audio with crap, despite you can get stuff like aptx HD or LDAC over Bluetooth which is capable of lossless audio transmission at CD quality. But in general, the public never associate high fidelity audio with Bluetooth because it is still widely and poorly implemented in tech, at least not enough to change the story on it.

The same applies to microtransaction and F2P games. The art of incorporating these things: horse armor(supply/demand) , pay-to-win versus free-play player trajectories and game balance, the experience of buying stuff in game, and the whole nine yard, is science and art combined. But since the world really opened the door with massive scale F2P games with microtransactions in the late 00s, it was more a story of abuse. The reputation of this business model is ruined by some big players who got big quickly at the expense of sustainability of their business as well as the concept. What’s more are the people who spent $10000s on these games and ruined their lives as they were preyed on by various designs that encouraged people to spend more without showing them what they were getting in exchange, at least not in a clear way. It’s a gambling problem revisited. Those stories were billboards to play on that narrative. It reinforces the negative experiences for some and validated the opinions those who did not have the first hand experience.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of boycotting these mechanics, gamers should learn about them and understand that they are not going away. They should instead encourage developers to take MTX more seriously, build it into their game as much as they build their paychecks into their lives–it needs to be just as important as all other parts of the game. It needs to be responsible (be fair and nice to players), sustainable (respectful of the player and other devs), and educational (to show people how it can be done right).

I mean, the best thing I can say is, as an IM@S P over the years, I have seen what gacha looked like in the OG Deremas game, then in Million, then in the various (failed) Playstation efforts for the main line games, then in Deresute and Theater Days, and now in Shiny Colors. There are things that devs did right (Deresute and TD models) and things devs did wrong (Platinum Stars). It was incremental improvement to see the various switches, levers, and things people liked, wanted, needed, being added or taken away.

And fans need to still let devs know–I think this is happening regardless. As we move towards a more patron-like model (F2P games are basically 10% of the players subsidizing the other 90% of players since they make up 90% of the revenue), indie gaming and other more targeted style of content delivery, it’s utmost important to build that communication channel between developers and players. Short of that, devs need to do better to survey the landscape and look next to them.