Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

IDOLM@STER Pop Links Beta

THE IDOLM@STER POP LINKS, or Popmas, as they say, is a new game published under the IDOLM@STER brand and it is the first and only game that includes the 5 currently active brands of the …franchise. Or should I say they’re sub-franchises? Anyways, the open beta is going on and it will run for about 4 days, ending after the weekend is over.

For more about the nitty and gritty, you can read this blog article and it goes into some details. Just to repeat what it says, the open beta and a few online streams and videos are all we have, which are entirely subject to change between now and launch later in 2021.

The creator of Popmas is NHN PlayArt and they created the currently-active Disney Tsum Tsum game, which is available in English speaking countries. Give that a spin and you then have some idea what Popmas is. They have other games, mostly rebranded stuff for other IPs, but one kind-of original in #COMPASS, which is a 3v3 RTS kind of a game. On that note, also they have a lot of dead games.

I think the other noteworthy items to point out is that the lead producer on the game looks really young. Kitajima Nao (KitaP/Kitajii), as described during the title announcement stream, had the idea when she first joined the company and was later put in charge on said idea (seems to be not too much later either).

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Dig Delight Direct Drive Disc Jockey: First Mix: Hopes

What is there to say about D4DJ’s TV anime? My approach to this is multi-fold. And personal, as my usual style…

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TV Anime Thoughts: 2020 Autumn

Just freestyling about in and on a particular Autumn afternoon. A lot of shows I won’t mention despite that I am still watching them, and some I don’t watch might get mentioned.

Is this season good? I think so–Corona has done a number to a bunch of shows this year, so even these low-budget-feeling programs like The Boy Who Loves Slimes and Standing on a Million Lives anime with Lantis OP/ED but actually Isekai are surprisingly good Entries. Actually The 1M anime is worth a deeper look. It’s probably the most overflowing-with-kindness take on a pretty deep introspective subject, not to mention it’s one of the weird isekai anime that has a non-isekai slant that isn’t someone logging into an online game. Except it kind of is someone logging into an online game. Anyways, it’s odd and unique. Ever think about the Great Filter? This is getting to that.

Boy Who Loves Slimes, or By The Grace of the Gods, is like a male-centric take on the healing isekai subgenre. Kamihiro is basically a lot messy and clumsy take compared Iguchi Yuka’s little Myne (Main?) from Ascendance of a Bookworm. Koroazu is serviceable here (I guess it is hard to play a child who used to be a worn-out salaryman) but way less spirited than Moroha from the Inuyasha full-blown sequel. I mean this is how you do a proper franchise reboot. I kind of didn’t bother with the original Inuyasha but I am enjoying the Yashahime anime quite a lot. Maybe it helps that there isn’t this Fushigi Yuugi template it tried to walk on. Thinking back it is really hard to like a series when you don’t really care for the two main characters.

The new formula is also breathing life on Major 2nd. Major is one of those popular baseball manga/anime that I would never like despite it being a popular (in Japan anyways) baseball story. Because it is the most hollow, pointless baseball story that manga-fying everything came to represent. Like, you can (and people have) create a manga about just about anything, including various sports and even more mundane or weird stuff. However Major 2nd is not like Major at all in my estimates. It actually respects the sport instead of bending it for the services of its characters.

The other interesting thing about Major 2nd is the whole male-female physical development thing and how puberty is a weird time for athletes trying to compete, to say the least. Like, talk about a topic that isn’t represented much in anime. But this is great. This is the wholesome afterschool TV program that I crave, not that I care particularly about this one item, but the way Major 2nd pivoted completely from its diehard post-reconstruction rhetoric to something people would actually care about in the 21st century is a good study at any rate. In that it actually cares about its authenticity. If you are going to be a story about something extremely real, ie., baseball that everyday kids can play in school, it really helps to also be extremely real in the portrayal. At least, as translated into the medium.

This is also a thematic issue that I’ve seen in recent years. A lot of original TV anime programs fail to capture viewers despite being very interesting. I think two great picks here are Deca-dence and Listeners. But on the flip side you look at (really dumb) serial works turning into anime, they tend to have more of a pull. Major 2nd is good, to something more bling-y like Jujitsun Kaisen, or genre-changing to the likes of Tower of God anime. I think that other Korean cartoon adaptation is the epitome of this–God of Highschool is basically everything nobody cares about but would gladly turn off the brain and watch. It’s like, maybe something to fill the gap between Kengan Ashura adaptations (now that is a fun fighting “anime”).

(For a point of contrast, compare God of Highschool with Akudama Drive (an anime original), man, the difference is clear.)

Is it just that, having the first editorial and publishing go-around culls the silly stories that you’ve seen from top creators? Tomino needed G-reco TV to make the G-reco films, I guess.

There may be some types of works in which we can be easier on. Wandering Witch provides that once-a-year kind of experience, where you can also shut off the brain to enjoy some thought-provoking fable chill-vibes. In this particular case the stories don’t cut as deep as, say, Kino’s, but it is also somewhat positive. It’s like social media is full of luls, but people end up being more glam and positive than they typically are, just because it’s good for engagement. In other words: We live in a society. Indeed those works engage us from that side of life.

The pure-pure fantasy side of life is good this year too. Media-mix projects (original anime works, let’s not forget) like Sigururi and Assault Lily are bringing the heat and excitement, or as much as you can get with a bunch of girls. Sigururi is particularly noteworthy because it reminds me of Garupan without all the problematic stuff you get from, say, another season of Strike Witches.

Well, Road to Berlin is fine. I enjoy it and every girl is great in that show. It’s just a bit tiresome after so many years? Maybe my tastes have evolved since then–between Kancolle, Azure Lane, and the barrage of similar bin of things in this very niche. It’s not like “isekai” where a whole world of themes can be explored…literally. Strike Witches first aired in 2007, that is a long run for a limited set of themes!

(As an aside, the gay formula in all these Bushifam works and others just reminds me of Golden Kamui which resumes this season but it gets even gayer than before. In some sense these shows all follow the same formula? I guess even Aachi & Shimamura.)

Other media-mix original anime works also seemed to hit their stride this season for me. A big, big one is D4DJ First Mix. I should write about this separately. The third Bushi-fam-linked-work in anime for this season is NijiGaku anime, and that one is also turning out way better than its predecessors. On that note, even Ochifuru is a lot of fun and I’m enjoying this collective of personas. Drop Out Idol Fruit Tart is a bit like a wonky 00s show but with updated and modern sensibilities. The cast is interesting too, with the cross section of interesting new seiyuu-idol talents.

If there was a miss among all the big gun media mix shows this season, I would say that is going to be HypMic. But even as it stands, it’s serviceable enough and fun to watch. I guess it helps to explain the characters to people who are not neck deep in that fandom, despite the songs were so hype 18-24 months ago. And yes, it can be really CRINGE. But that isn’t anything we didn’t know going in from the very start.

That and Dai no Daibouken are the two shows that I didn’t expect to enjoy this season, but ended up following them beyond 3. It feels like Cygames really should learn from Dai no Daibouken in terms of how to create a compelling RPG story that is between all the Rage of Bahamut things they made (see above regarding interesting original stories that failed) and The Grand Blues which I support as an anime series purely on the Teekyuu Principle but it is the most extravagant waste of time and resource I’ve seen lately. At least the Cingekis and whatever Bushiroad made can serve on its face. This is utterly worthless for non-players and except eccentrics like myself.

Actually, the problem is pretty clear once you’ve taken a moment to think about it–Granblue and Cygames in general spends way too much time grandstanding on their own junk. Maybe it’s kind of atmospheric, but this is kind of a shell game that isn’t selling to people who were not already buying.

I really enjoyed the One Rooms this season so far. I really miss this particular version of Rietion, and that Tomita Miyu act is quite enticing.

The dogeza anime is amusing enough, once you remember it used to be shittweets and now it’s an anime short. But I think the Joy of Sugita Tomokazu can be better found in Sigururi because they’re their own unit there. I mean, Sigururi E4…

It’s a funny coincidence that we got Iwakakeru anime this season, which just reminds me of this. That said, the rock climbing JK team is compelling because it’s something I don’t know about (competitive bouldering in Japan) and the main girl is interesting. That it is over the top is OK, keeps things fresh I guess, but the other characters seems really oddball and maybe the tone of story has to play into it, which makes it also oddish and over the top.

If thinking about adaptation gets this rant to this point, the one main counterpoint this season is Tonikawa. It is also kind of a cringe show but if the entire original story is a mental gymnastic trick, what does the anime have left to do? That said, I liked the OP a lot (possibly my pick this season while Jujitsu gets the ED) and, well, the source content is solid. If I had a nitpick it would be just Akarin’s version of Tsukasa is not a great fit in my opinion. She does a fine job here, that said.

A fitting way to end this post is thinking about the Maeda Jun anime this season–it isn’t that frequently we get a show of this heritage or caliber. It’s decidedly less grim than Charlotte, but way more compelling already. I think that might be due to the animation and direction being really spot on? The timing works. The characterization works (especially on the supporting cast), that the low-key skit nature of the dialog between characters work. The Day I Became a God is probably both in the running for a late-inning comeback homerun, or forgotten to the test of time like other interesting, well-made, original anime TV series. That in itself is kind of exciting.

If there is a thing about finesse in telling a story via animation, this year showed it to us what it means. It’s hard!


Deca-Dence’s Early Landing

The Deca-Dence twist was great, so why had I stopped caring by the end?

There is a simple answer to this question. It turned a movie-type plot into an anime series. In a way I applaud the Scamp summarizing the problem into a sentence, but it doesn’t quite unpack the full issue. Deca-Dence spoilers ahoy.

I too thought Dece-dence was a fun show that is quite compelling maybe up to the point where the plan was put together to blow up the monster farm. The narrative has already taken a split between POV of Heybot Kaburagi and POV of Natsume. In as much as the humans in the show are just there, or maybe better put, victims, Natsume gets relegated to that role which gave the beating heart of the story a bit too much emotional distance.

This means Kaburagi’s side of the story has to tag team, and frankly this Heybot-invoking story just doesn’t have the intrigue to carry the intensity the same way that Natsume-could-literally-just-die-any-time, while surf-spearing alien-looking bugs. In a way, the Heybot gimmick worked against it when you have this contrast and it isn’t consistently played for interest, as the second half of the story was mostly in Heybot-POV.

Which is to say, the final boss critter was a powerful monster but was way less fearsome than the doomed-to-fail-but-not mid-series mission where the game devs planned to kill off the over-accomplishing players and humans. Deca-dence was never a game in the first place, by playing up the game aspect, the story has emotionally cheapened its core asset.

Which is also another way to say, the story while had enough gas to go all the way, it was probably too introspective too quickly. The gimmick had to survive 12 episodes (roughly 240-250 minutes if you take out repeated parts), which is probably 120 minutes too long all said and done.


Re: IDOLM@STER at Songs of Tokyo Festival 2020

Songs of Tokyo Festival is an annual1 special program from NHK World, as part of its Songs of Tokyo TV segment. Songs of Tokyo showcases Japanese music acts with translation and feedback from global fans. Now that its 2020 fest had the ON AIR moment last weekend, it is free on demand viewing online here. The VOD expires January 31, 2021.

While Songs of Tokyo and the associated festivals have been going on for some time, it’s always pretty wild to catch the artists on domestic TV that I had to fly to Japan to see. NHK World is commonly broadcasted as a community program in metro areas in the west, or as a freebie in world packages in bundled television services like cable. It’s weird to be able to see all that at 1080 broadcast resolution, where as the real-time web stream looks like, well, a piece of crap. I mean, it probably looks fine normally for NHK programs but these live shows have a lot of visuals going on, and there were just not enough bits. In fact the VOD has the same mushiness look, just much better than the stream.

For this 2020 edition of Songs of Tokyo Festival, instead of in-person audience, there are a bunch of people put on 2 big TV in the venue (NHK Hall), Zoom-style. They act more or less like your typical studio audience.

Enough leading up, I think it’s time to reflect on this 25-minute TV segment that I’ve watched 4 times already in about 48 hours. First of all, the visuals in the back is full blown Mai-Note production value. Fans of IM@S lives will know it well, but I think this is more cranked up than usual given the set is just a giant half-circle LCD wall.

The 15th Anniversary song survived the Coronavirus and we got a presentation of it at Songs of Tokyo Fest. It’s the first time everyone’s seen it performed. It’s not even performed by the original cast–but this is the kind of song that everyone will get to perform. Nandodemo Waraou is also the first IM@S group song with SideM, which means dudes and gals get to sing together, a first for the franchise.

It’s an hour-long TV program including Nana Mizuki, BanG Dream (Popipa, Roselia, RAS), and IM@S. So that they gave ~22 out of 48 minutes of the time to them is already pretty great. In usual JUNGO fashion, team IDOLM@STER’s performance is crammed with little things. Let’s try to unpack some.

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