Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

Explaining Anisong World Matsuri 2018: Part 2

Part 2 is from the organizer end.

JAM Lab launched sometime earlier this year, as a portal so pros can research and contact Japanese management and artists. Given the way Japan does business, it is hard to cold call them. Anime’s cultural cache is recognizant and I think it’s always good to be available if an opportunity rises. JAM Lab fills that need somewhat. It also tries to fill the informational gap, by posting interviews, translated reports and ranking news, what have you.

JAM Lab provided a couple interviews, namely the head SOZO guy who is responsible for the AFA brand, and Inoue who is the head of Lantis and is heading up the Anisong World Matsuri shows. Inoue’s interviews are still being posted this week, as of this writing, but it already has shed some light on the AWM shows and how they’re approaching it. What’s kind of missing is the eventual Lantis 20th anniversary tour, assuming that’s what will happen again. [At AnimeJapan this year, there was a public talk stage between the organizers of Anisama, Animax Musix, and Lisani. It’s also worth checking out if you are interested in that stuff, if you can find it on youtube or nico…]

Please do read Inoue’s interview besides what I’ve quoted, because it’s interesting unless you already know the general story about him. I’m just going to quote what stands out in relevance to the topic of AWM and what to expect…

So I’m going to move on to talking about your company Lantis. Now that I know how Lantis all started, can you tell me the type of business Lantis is doing once again?
-So Lantis was established in 1999, and this is our 19th year. In prior to move onto our 20th year, as you know Lantis is a record company that makes anime and game music. Of course we do concerts as well. We are going to join forces with Bandai Visual, which works on motion pictures as well as some of Takeshi Kitano’s movies. Our company is going to be called Bandai Namco Arts starting April of this year. So for people reading this article, the company’s name will change within a few days. The name Lantis will stay as a label and logo.

Quoted only because now it’s BNA. It’s still not quite the same as the BN Live Creative sub brand? Not sure TBH, Bandai Namco reorgs makes no sense to me (rip BE USA).

[]With next year marking the 20th year, are there any projects or events that left a big impression on you for the last 2 decades?
-We do a lot of concerts and events with our partner group Bandai Namco Live Creative. We do about 800 shows a year.

800!?
-Yes(laughs). Not every day but there are concerts taking places in different prefectures as well. We’ve been able to do a lot of these events and on our 10th year, we did an event called Lantis Matsuri at Fujikyu Highland Conifer Forest. After that, on our 15th anniversary, we did Lantis Matsuri at 4 different prefectures, Aichi, Sendai, Osaka and Tokyo. After that, we were able to do Lantis Festival overseas in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai, Singapore, and Korea. Being able to do that with artists that grew up with you as well as well as staffs and making an event from scratch is probably the most memorable thing we ever did. Next year, 2019 will mark our 20th year so we are thinking of doing an event celebrating our anniversary.

Different countries too?
-Speaking of different countries, we were able to do Anisong World Matsuri after Lantis Festival. It was a concert consisting of artists not just from Lantis but with Japanese artists and musicians from other labels and companies as well.

Seems like the event is going to keep getting bigger.
What’s the advantage and what’s interesting about doing business with specializing in anime songs?
-Well, it’s going to change a little starting next month but, there were no labels that only specialized in anime and game songs. I think the biggest advantage is being able to team up with companies such as Pony Canyon, Kadokawa and other companies and makers to make music as well as motion pictures. The company is going to change but we are still going to be making music and motion pictures with other companies. So that part will not change.

Basically, this is the thinking for Lantis 20th. AWMs are both learning experience and test grounds for future endeavors. The truth is as Inoue tells it–there are fans here. Question is more like, will it be worth their while to overcome? As we all know, it costs a lot of money to throw the AX AWMs. However since there is a business interest, they can adopt and scale, so it’s possible for the Japan side to hold the risk and streamline future live events oversea. Quoting from the 2nd interview–

I heard about Lantis expanding overseas so I would like to talk about the past, present and future goals. Lantis is getting bigger by year, what triggered you to start thinking about expanding overseas?
-We have a project called JAM Project. It stands for Japanese Animation Song Makers. A project to make Japanese Anime Songs. We started this project around 2000 and in 2008, on their 8th year they were able to hold a concert at the Budokan which was their goal. After that, we had a discussion about what their next goal is going to be. That’s when we decided that we should expand overseas and bring anime songs to the rest of the world.

It seem like a business that isn’t really market-researched, but at the same time, they are building the market.

You’re probably aware that there are many anisong fans oversea, do you feel that there is a difference in what’s popular depending on the country?
-Not so much anymore. They seem to like similar things but in South America, such as Brazil, Tokusatsu songs seems to be popular. Songs for Kamen Rider was actually broadcasted with the episode. So the attendees would be people who used to watch Tokusatsu when they were younger. In Europe, I noticed Dynamic Production work and anime like Gurren Lagann and Mecha were popular.

This is actually a bit of news to me, but I guess what I really want to know is, how is South America doing taste-wise? I already know about toku down there, which is why JAM Project loves Brazil and the like, but it doesn’t say anything about other genres. By the way, they’re totally going to South America for Lantis 20th, if you read between the lines.

I’ve noticed that Lantis has been attending oversea events for a long time now and now Lantis is holding their own events oversea. Can you tell me a little bit of how it is working with Amuse and holding your own event?
-We do Lantis Festival which is a festival only for Lantis. But I also thought that depending on the place, there is more demand on something that Lantis alone cannot provide. There may be demand for Avex pictures, Sony Music Entertainment, Horipro, and Amuse which helps us book artists internationally because they have branches out in different countries. We are now shifting to work with oversea companies and hold the risk in doing oversea events.

Amuse is important because they are the people cons deal with in order to get these things set up, at least for AFA and AWM. I don’t really know how they could do this for other countries or countries that don’t have big presences. In a more practical sense, Amuse is only really needed because of AWM and other large events that’s being set up. What makes American events good are proximity and access, neither really a big aspect for AWM-type shows. Well, except by proximity meaning you don’t have to fly to Japan, I guess. So that is kind of a different narrative for eventers looking for that sort of a thing.

If you look at Otakon’s guest list over the years and its progression closely, you would know that is closer to the ideal back end setup–strong GR and a history of solid venue for JP acts to access a sizable US crowd. The promo is there albeit limited in a non-profit sort of way. There is merch support, and fans can even see shows without paying an extra ticket on top of the con admission. It’s a good arrangement until we realize this severely limits the access of acts. Ultimately you are on a tight budget, you can only fly folks over who are not asking for a serious appearance fee, and frankly there’s no way to leverage scale because you are capped from soliciting more money. It might take 150 people to do AWM at AX, but that’s 2 or 3 shows and each with many acts. If we go with a country club way of thinking, it’s time for Otakon to change gears and buy that golf course, and at least Japan is doing it for them.

Let me wrap up this business talk with one semi-hypothetical anecdote. Last year we had an anikura thing at AX. It was not an AX program, as I am entirely unaffiliated. It’s billed as an after party to AWM day 0, but we had a showing of about 180 people. It was enough to cover all the costs (including some food even). We advertised purely by word of mouth. I want to do this again this year by the way…

Anyways, the point is, a lot of the flat costs or sunk costs are the venue, the human resource costs of processing payment, getting people registered, signing people in, etc. It didn’t matter if the event had 100 or 200 people, or if the DJ were my friends or JP guests as, those don’t affect the core costs of the event. If my budget is, say, $5000 or $25 for each person with a 200 cap, because I can’t budge what I charge people, I would be capped there. Let’s say I was able to get all the back end costs to $2500, that leaves $2500 to fly a DJ and his manager over, and put them into a hotel room (and a volunteer handler to drive them around). That’s very bare bones.

Using the same numbers, if I was able to change what I charge people (for example, if I use crowdfunding and set stretch goals for autographs and what not) I can probably get 2 guests if I just raise the average payment per attendee to $38, just $13 more. I can even leverage the same volunteer handler LOL. To translate, for example, if Otakon sold concert tickets, they can then increase the guest list because they’ve paid a lot of the sunk costs regardless, and it’s fairly efficient to pass some of the added cost to attendees, assuming they are really scaling it here and providing what the audience wants.

I think for cons, AWM just makes this proposition a lot easier to deal with, if not the concept possible to start.

 


Explaining Anisong World Matsuri 2018: Part 1

What does Anisong World Matsuri do? Can I eat it?

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Citizen Action Is Fine But LOL

I read this and well, I agree with it more than I disagree with it, for starters. In summary, it is a blog post illustrating the baseline understanding on what the table stakes are to improve working condition of Japanese animators. In specific, it says that it is reprehensible to shame people from piracy by leveraging them the information about poorly-treated animators. Lawful consumption of content produced by the anime industry also will not really address the problem, because it’s not a directing force. That much is common sense. Table stakes. If you’re not at this level I don’t think we can have a constructive discussion.

It is a helpful post by listing some key items and things westerners know about, such as the anime dorm thing and Janica, as well as Sakugablog. However I think it kind of trips on itself by trying to criticize anime press and the lack of information available to fans. Here are some of my thoughts.

  1. In the post it says that information and misinformation is a major issue. I agree–both as someone who has been misinformed and have seen plenty others being misinformed, for starters. I’m not entirely sure if that blog post is fully informed, namely, it overreaches. I think you can’t take such a cut-and-dry approach to labor relations, especially applying some international models to Japan. It doesn’t often work–even for large capital firms trying to break into that market. The relationship between press and advertiser, too, is a complicated thing that I don’t have time to get into now, and this outside view is obtuse.
  2. The problem of poor information is understated. For starters, plain PR-style information is not even well represented in English. There is definitely a selection bias due to the industrial relationships between localizers, press, and Japanese content producers. At the same time, it is not really a goal of these organizations to educate consumers. Fandom, possibly the most well-equipped source of information, is often also not primed as a means of education, either because there is a lack of organization, or because the scope of information does not address greater, fundamental education that is lacking. Misusing decontextualized data and concepts remains a pervasive issue.
  3. This partly plays out at the Sakugablog. The relationship between Sakugablog, its exposure of individual animators to the western public, and that post, is also an example of poor information and disinformation. As Kevin and others may tell you outright, sometimes the truth cannot be simply disclosed, and Sakugablog is not really meant to serve that whistleblowing purpose. Sakugabooru and Sakugablog ultimately serves its fan niche first and foremost, and it is not a public outreach platform, despite it wanting to be that as well. I think the need for something like a news-like site to explain how everything is, is part of what the sakuga community needs, so Sakugablog tried to serve that purpose. However, if you would read this tortured whistleblowing, you would know it’s not really in a position to do so. First and foremost, if you are friends with the cottage industry that is Japanese sakuga-making, you can’t really be a bull in the proverbial china shop. The accusational post is not even 1:1 accusation and explanation, it’s like 5 parts couching the issue, 1 parts defending the accused, and 1 part actually accusing. The public is not really ready for something like this, because we are generally just grossly misinformed about this niche industry. Even with that long post there is a lot of room for misunderstanding, and misunderstanding by casual/semi-casual fans, not just randos. Pursue the comments in that Marchen Madchen post (RIP). And by the public or randos I don’t just mean western fans, but in general, including the Japanese, non-sakuga-otaku public. Animator working condition discussions at times is a sensitive issue, and I’m not sure it’s possible to talk about these things in that context without either diluting your message or cause more problems. More importantly, this is a huge, systemic issue, that is related with a bunch of other issues, and there are few ways to tackle this without a full on knowledge of what builds the system up, which require a truckload of knowledge beyond appreciation of animators.
  4. There are other unions that blog post missed. Obviously the one in my wheelhouse is the Japanese actors union which covers voice acting, which dictates rates, guarantees and royalties, among other things.  Musicians also have unions, depends if they are composers or what, but in this regard many anime-related musicians are attached to a major label or freelance, so those arrangements will take precedence. Seiyuu union is a good example to show that unionization in Japan only works so much to help working condition. Short of spending the next 1000 words describing it I’ll just say one should read up on Shirobako’s most pitiful out of the five. Only if things were that simple.
  5. The blog post points to neoliberal traps of market correction, but fails to acknowledge that the likes of PA Works, Kyoto Animation, and other animation companies are the first and foremost actors in improving the working condition of their employees and contractors. This is at odds with Sakugablog’s fairly cheerleader-like posture at these positive industry-side changes. As things are in reality, it takes both sides, labor and employer, reaching some compromise for the situation to improve. It would be foolish to write away the employer side as handwaving “neoliberalism.” That posure in fact shows a poor understanding of the role of these companies in the ecosystem. To me, the fact that animation companies are actively trying to improve the situation implies a truck load of other things that ought to be discussed in the breadth of that post (should it decide to go there), and truly that’s kind of the change citizen actions should push for anyway. But it’s weird that none of that is being said in that blog post. Which is again, a bull in china shop kind of thing, cottage industry and all. Anyways, that omission seems critical, especially in light of some of the other word-drops (like Young Animators Project).

I do heartily agree that people need a firm grasp on fundamentals, like citizen action on system change, how it works, and other things illustrated by that blog post, to have a sensible discussion on how to elevate the working condition of Japanese animators. However it also takes a lot of data and keen understanding on Japanese work culture, business practices, societal attitudes, demographics, anime industry structures, patterns and much more, to be pushing these kinds of recommendations, not simply blanketly apply things that may have worked somewhere else without acknowledging the need to address localized concerns. If we want to make arguments not on rational points and facts, and instead appeal to emotion, I think that blog post makes a good point. But does that even matter? I think let’s stay away from the usual SJW-ing too hard and focus our effort on tangible ways to help animators, even if it’s a band-aid.

But like I said, I agree with that post more than I disagree with it. It’s worth the time to read.

PS. Anyone going to WUG Bus Tour? See you there.


The A5 Kobe Beef of Smiles

As a minor fan of seiyuu unit Wake Up, Girls!, I’ve seen them perform live a few times. As per the customary behavior of Japanese wota in attendance, there are some vigorous calls happening. Calls, in this context, means the words or cheering that the audience chant or yell towards the stage to cheer on their idols. There is one song that they do which the calls are particularly now “a part of the song” in my head, and the calls are fun too. It’s Gokujou Smile.

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To Wit, Magus’ Bore and Re-diving Into Pricone

To bounce off the evirus again, maybe this is what he was thinking of when he got snarky on adaptations? To quote:

To be honest, it sort of reaffirms my nagging suspicions that The Ancient Magus’ Bride works better as a manga than it does as an anime. I don’t believe this is the fault of the WIT STUDIO adaptation, because it is beautifully done and the quality has remained high throughout. Instead, I suspect the stories featured in the series might just lend themselves better to print than anime.

Having no real horse in the race and not have read the manga (but watched all the anime so far), somehow it makes sense. Like, this anime is not going to get me to read the manga. Maybe it serves as a meta, a talking point, for people to bring up the manga and get people interested (“Oh you are watching Magus’ Bride? The manga is so much better.”) but that’s like throwing on too much shade. I think the anime is decent, it is, to a more jaded viewer like me, something refreshing and different. It might still be kind of the same yokai story centered around a gifted human child, but this spin is way up my alley than, say, Natsume Yuujincho. Just like how Fate-verse is still the best for recasting western folklore and historic figures to do some dumb things, I don’t really like and I am not interested in the Japanese standards on this take. It’s refreshing, even if the anime and story content is quite drab and obtuse I think… Perfect for Kyoto Animation, in retrospect.

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WIT STUDIO is also producing the anime in Princess Connect Re:Dive, which is the latest and greatest galge-mobage from Cygames. Having seriously played the original Princess Connect game, I was looking forward to this with some trepidation, and so far I think the developers have answered my concerns.

Big picture-wise, Princess Connect and Pricone:R are the player-versus-player realm wars equivalent to social gaming as the hoard of Korean grinders were to the EverQuests and WOWs of the 00s.  Well, it’s more like guild wars, ha ha. But in the greater Japanese social game pachinko-machine-like scene, it is a relative rarity. There are other games like this but none with the spit and shine of Pricone:R I think; well, certainly none with a Tanaka Kouhei score. Pricone the original was a browser-based game with some real-time stuff, and most of the graphics are rudimentary, as you’d expect a game launched in 2014-2015. Pricone:R on the other hand, is a little piece of Sakura Taisen heaven coupled with a standard auto-playing, character-party, fantasy RPG, side combat doohicky that you might see in the Danmachi social game or some such.

Which is to say, there’s a ton of actual anime in the Pricone:R game itself. Well, maybe a ton is exaggerating, but every commu chapter ends with an ending animation with animated next episode preview? LOL. About 90 percent of the commu is the standard talking sprite over a dialog box sort of deal, but they do drop those anime in and around fairly consistently. And WIT did well with them.

My worry in Pricone:R was that it would stop being a PVP focused affair, and it turned out to be a dumb thing to worry about, because it still is. It’s the only game I play that does not a have friend list (let alone friend support). It retains the whole clan mechanics, except so far it doesn’t have any elements of clan warfare (so you can’t filter clan recruits by time slots of when people will be online to play versus battles, as there are none such things). There are two PVP arenas players can participate for loot and glory, but they are both for individuals. Clan interaction so far is a mix of friends list and the ability to ask people for gear in exchange for rupees. The lack of clan-based PVP is still a concern, but I hope they address it soon since they have some outright “to be deployed later” place holders in the game right now.

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Some straight up disclosure and Pricone:R meta, because I’ve been playing it quite a bit lately. Some key thoughts:

  • Spend some money to make more money. The core of this game is a versus experience. Payout in arena and princess arena are in the 1000s of gems. By bucking the bell curve you can stand to make good dosh. The game is also fairly generous, because you can’t be competitive until you roll enough to get your core team up and running, and enough memory fragments to upgrade your 1* and 2* characters. If you want to save up gems for a future roll, you can, but know that you will not make as much gem-wise as someone who spend  them wisely. It literally is spending gems to earn gems, and there will be a balance point where the end result is a powerful team of characters and still lots of free gems in the bank. Playing it too safe means you might have a lot of gems, but your parties’ development will be lagging.
  • Princess Arena needs more balance tweaks. It’s hard to maintain rank, easy to gain rank. The result is it becomes expensive time-wise and a bit expensive gem-wise to reach heights in Princess Arena. Basically, you need to have 2 great teams to stay afloat, but just 1 great team to go up. This is mainly because NPCs have 3 good teams, which is harder to beat sometimes, but less of a sure thing on paper than in practice, so people don’t fight NPCs and instead fight people with 2 great teams, since you just have to beat their second-best team to win.
  • Comp is life, but actually levels are more important. Assuming at rank 7 and equal star power, a level 60 fully upgrade guy will beat a level 50 fully upgraded guy often. Even if the level 60 paper versus the level 50 scissors are, well, paper versus scissors in rock-paper-scissors. This is the zen of Princess Connect Redive. The essence. The zeitgeist. The soul. Whatever. In other words, don’t be the level 50 paper fighting a level 60 scissors. Things also gets much more complex when you deal with a team of 5 characters where the flaws of one guy can be covered up by another guy, but you get the idea.
  • Team comp thus can be boiled down by characters and their counters. Like, the ever popular Suzune/Io back row versus, say, Tamaki, who is flawed in Arena but powerful in this situation.
  • Anna is fun, she is not great, and her explosion power is what makes it fun. Don’t let people tell you that she sucks because her explosion power sucks. That’s like saying because individuals almost never win the lottery, having a free lottery ticket sucks. Without her explosion power, Anna is plenty good. If her power helps you even or win a losing game, so much the better.
  • This is still the game I call characters by seiyuu, but now that I’m talking to plebs on reddit and elsewhere I kind of have to learn the names of the characters.