Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

C3 Anime Festival Asia Singapore 2019: Wrap

A Thanksgiving…weekender? I guess that’s the best description for this American. It is far, and it was fun. Singapore is both at the same time, this SEA city-state that is steeped in the best (and not so best) Asian tradition but also, like Crazy Rich Asians. For one, it’s an expensive place. The con is at Bugis, and we walked to the Merlion for some photo ops. The place is full on a tourist trap. The whole place is also steep in instagrammable setups that it felt a bit too much. I’m not a huge fan of living inside a mall either, and of all the times I visited Singapore, that was my persistent impression. Well, it beats walking outside that is for sure.

The series of events known as AFASG is on its, what, 11th year now? After its corporate overlord merged with the C3 brand, this name labels a few other cons in the SEA region, such as in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It’s kind of neat because there is significant coverage of these events (relatively to all anime cons, I guess) in English because the attendees often use that language. It’s certainly the case in SG. It’s weird to me because other than the UK cons, you don’t hear much about the ones in Continental Europe, for example.

The con itself is similar to a lot of other Asian cons–basically most of it is a big exhibition space/dealer room. This is what AX is basically moving towards, this is what ANYC is moving towards, this is what everything is moving towards–for better or worse. I can get into it, but let me just say that the room doesn’t make the con and it’s too much of a tangent. Maybe later this month.

Given this is my first time at AFA, I thought the con was run with a degree of practice among the staff and attendees. That turns into a pretty okay experience overall, as far as the nuts & bolts of the “con stuff” goes. I didn’t experience major gaffs other than finding myself not having a seat for Friday’s concert. Thankfully that was resolved just before the show started.

(But, like, imagine you’re ready for fhana and you get to the concert hall and there is no seat with your seat number on it. You commiserate with the other guys just standing there who also have no seat, knowing that someone already told the staff and they are trying to fix it. Then a few hurried staff came with seats and added the chairs and moved people around to reassign the alignment. Great. Show begins in 5 minutes.)

In case it was not clear, AFASG has basically 2 components: the exhibit hall (which has 2 stages–the Akiba stage which is more like a community stage in AX terms, and Lumica has one at their booth), and the main event space. During the con there are stage events that are part of the exhibition. At night, there is the “I Love Anisong” concerts which require another type of admission. All admissions are done via wristbands (daily). So for each day, there are like 5 different wristbands, and times three for the full weekend (they could have done a weekend wristband I guess, but didn’t). At least that’s for attendees.

One notable thing about AFASG is its size. For some time it has been one of the largest anime conventions outside of Japan. Today, it still is very big, but not that big. Just going by warm-body counts, I think it’s on par with Anime NYC 2019. AX is about two or three times as large, give and take. Like, if you’ve been to the big anime cons in the USA, AFASG should be familiar territory. The Anisong concerts don’t pack out (just like how it is here), but they do charge an arm and leg for the designated seats and nearly nothing for the standing space in the back, a nice contrast. The venue sounded pretty okay, and if you buy into the AFAWorld VIP thing, you can even get a decent seat easily.

To spare you with all the negative hearsay I hear from AFASG, I think you should expect a pretty typical anime con experience (state-wise). The venue is about the right size for Singapore, and the crowd is just right between laid back and intense to not cause too much trouble. I didn’t really camp at AFASG until Sunday, plus all the fun stuff I got at the con didn’t require queueing, most are either lottery or through online sales.

Like, I literally waltzed into DJ Arisha’s Akiba stage set half way through and got to the rails, LOL. Or just going to her set at Lumica when it starts, a few rows from the front. The exhibit hall was crowded on Saturday, but it wasn’t crazy. The shopping game is strong, but at the same time people tended to queue a lot at the bigger industry-based booths. Without Lumica and the like I’m not sure what people did at the con–it isn’t like there is a lot to do actually.

Maybe it’s also that the crush is not concentrated at specific things. There were plenty of livers on hand to make a ruckus at the various Arisha stages, but unlike the States it isn’t even a notable quantity of them. This is what a healthy convention environment should look like I guess.

Cosplayers generally gathered everywhere outside the exhibition area. Suntec’s con spaces is built on top of a two-floor mall, and it’s quite vertical with big lobby spaces. People sprawled there, but also there are designated photography spaces. Still people formed photo bubbles around major choke points on Saturday and that is kind of a pet peeve of mine. It’s more the JP style photo circle than just one or two folks stopping to take a pic. Cosplayers should have more awareness on that… But man, turfing this con is super easy–it’s almost by design.

What else is there to say about the con? Let me stop noobing and get to the specifics.

The concerts are kind of broken out by companies this year. Day 1 is mostly Lantis. Day 2 is Sony and others. Day 3 is HoriPro. Day three is almost like Anisong Ichiban, for those of us who remember them. There wasn’t a lot of zooing despite Koroazu’s best attempts, but having a live band to set up May’n and the ensuing collab songs was a nice touch. Don’t Say Lazy is so much better with a live band, I kid you not.

For better or worse, we actually didn’t stay for the whole concert until Sunday. Saturday was really not our thing anyway so we skipped out after half way into ReoNa, and came back to a couple Junna songs to pick up a straggler and go eat dinner. Friday I was just exhausted from traveling and left after Mayayan. The fact that most of the city closes by 10pm makes dining late a problem, but we ended up having decent eats for the most part, going to tourist traps for western bar food. McDonalds is decent eats, I guess? I don’t know.

The show itself didn’t have live band except for actual bands (Scandal, fhana, etc). May’n had a live band backing, which was cool. It makes me think that AFASG’s composition is sort of a ragtag alliance of strange associations. In a way that might have allowed more artists to show up but how much say do the organizers have on the management and labels? I have no idea. It didn’t feel like merch was heavy for a lot of them, which seems to be the case for other shows like AWM. That made sense.

The crowd was proper energetic and it felt like a festival live in Japan, but smaller yet not that intimate. Calls were largely missing actually, but you can hear it, which makes it more in line with American lives but just a bit better.

I think most of the takeaway at the con, despite the big focus on the concerts, were the talk stages and meet & greet sessions. The stage events are basically what you expect, Japan-style talk shows. Unlike the lame versions you see in the US, they got some instigators (namely Yoshida Hisanori) to keep things lively. The FGO ANYC panel is closer to what you want out of these, not dumb walkthrough of some script. That is a waste of all our time. Please, Aniplex and Pony Canyon, do it right.

Of course, that’s asking a lot. AFASG stage were only this good because of the top MCs which can pull it off. Between Ash, Reiko and Yoppy they covered all the Japanese-side of things, and I don’t think you can understate how much they make those panels enjoyable. Especially Yoppy. I mean how do you even get this to work outside of Singapore or China/HK/TW/KR? We also had this random Malaysian talent in Shinonon who cutely handled the meet & greet session, even if mostly that was just telling us to spend the 45 seconds per person of face time. It’s kind of important to give the guests something to remember, and that usually happens when we talk, and by talk I mean nervously stammer, to the guests. Surprisingly all four of the M&G guests were decent at this. Eriko probably was actually the worst, lol. Arai has this comedy act down pact, plus you know how she looks, LOL. The surprise was talking to Fujita Saki, who doesn’t do this kind of thing often but I guess, thanks to Miku, is doing more of it now. Tano Asami was more like, lol. But it was nice talking to her.

I only stayed for a few stage events, such as the epic one where Yoppy and Eriko tried to talk about Eriko’s stuff in English only, with Ash backing up as narrator voice. Tsugu and Kayanon did their usual Saekano stage (about SAO) and SAO stage (about Saekano). I was only at the Saekano stage so I can’t really comment about the SAO stage, but Yoppy did his usual thing and the camera guy really played to Tsugu’s facial expressions. The Null&Peta stage was literally them shelling us the game with Ajuju doing a quick demo of the gameplay. That was neat and interesting, as someone casually enjoying the short anime TV series. I also played the demo there, which supposedly was its first public reveal.

To put it into perspective, the Eriko panel was so good, it probably even tops the Trysail radio event at Taipei during the first Lisani TW as the most enjoyable panel that I’ve seen at a con or any event. It’s pretty awesome to have cross-language panels with canned guests and scripts (well, Yoppy and Sensei kind of destroyed theirs), but I’m just thinking when will we get that in USA? Maybe Toronto first? That kind of MC skill is badly needed and AFASG is a bit of a proof-of-concept that if you hire the right folks and have it planned, it can happen.

Overall, this year’s AFASG felt like a great time, and as a con AFASG is all right. I think if I was more thirsty or the “right” guests comes, I might be more peeved, but for people who are laid back about a lot of this, the con offers people to roll money for access, and there is a lot of laid back kind of things to enjoy if you’re sufficiently tuned into the programming. Money as a gate works in SEA. On the other hand it doesn’t cater to a wide audience unlike US/Canadian cons, so the appeal might be kind of limited and definitely way more industry focused. Singapore is also a bit tiresome in that the weather and the urban environ gets on my nerves after a while, but that’s just me. I’m just glad the people are good and they made my short stay there fun and welcoming.

Continue reading

For All Tha Worldbuilders

From ep5?

The Ascendance of a Bookworm reminds me a lot of Inside Bill’s Brain. In a season where Dr. Stone also runs in the background, it’s pretty easy to see why that particular fantasy is fancy, where in Bookworm, the lead character struggled to get anything done given her circumstances, in the same amount of time.

The fundamental concept in world-building fiction is really a mapping of thoughts, the inputs, the modeling and the guiding principles behind how one relates to the exterior environs. In fiction, we have the luxury of moving that perspective outside of ourselves and inject unrealistic boundary conditions and shortcuts. A thought experiment is the kind of fiction in which we inject somewhat more realistic boundary conditions (and still unrealistic, or no weirder than undead cats). In JK Haru, you could tie that to prostitution and weave a powerful narrative about human condition as encoded in the language of isekai radobe. I think anything can be built by anything in fiction, and to an extent, real life. Compare that to a biopic/Netflix documentary, when we dig deep into how one person connects to the huge thing that person is doing, a similar image surfaces.

Putting aside Bill Gates’s reasons behind his quest to eradicate polio, I think of Main’s quest to become someone who has access to the tangible niceties enjoyed by bookworms in the same way. She wants to encode information as words in print, and to weave a set of words to depict a world in which Main lives in, through the fairy tales of her isekai mother. It is like building a world on the remains of another, minus the empires at war. Well, I guess there’s still Boko Haram in Africa.

Of course, this is only an interesting comparison because the Gates foundation has billions of dollars and massive resources at its disposal, compared to Main. The recap on Bookworm is that a book-loving adult woman got the usual “ran over by a truck” treatment and is reborn into a young girl in the Other, born to a middle-class rural family in what seems like late medieval Europe. Literacy is rare and the Main, the main character, has to first learn to read–well, she has to first find someone who knows how to read and make him teach her that. Books seemed very rare as well. As the story goes, Main became obsessed in creating her own book since she cannot purchase any. She then tried to obtain paper, or clay tablets, or wood tablets, or making papyrus paper, what have you.

And eradicating polio seems kind of hard compared to make paper at home in the 15th century, if you are a poor little girl. Well, maybe. Given that 1000s of species go extinct every year I don’t really know or can measure just how hard, given each’s comparative power levels, lack of a better term. And Bill is a smart, resourceful dude, definitely a 0.1%-er in terms of not just wealth, but as someone who is known as a smart business guy and a savvy technical guy. He is also a bookworm.

So maybe they’re tied? In her new world, Main might as well be its Bill.

PS. I mentioned JK Haru, because that story share a lot with Bookworm in that one aspect: A lot of the time (so far) Bookworm is focused on not just the world-building power fantasy, but the fact that knowledge portability does not always translate to power portability. In Gate or Slime, for example, the respective main characters gained tremendous power in the opening minutes of the series. In Bookworm, this seems to be entirely the opposite–and arguably Main is a better world builder than anyone in those series. It’s a great demonstration of how the isekai genre is both great (in distilling that power injustice to separate it from present-day reality) and terrible (in reinforcing that injustice). On that note, I kind of guh’d at Chouyoyu (Because how are these people any good? If this is “smart” for Japan then that country is in trouble) and I tried Noukin and couldn’t get into it. I’m okay on Isekai Cheat but behind. Am I missing anything worth checking out?

PPS. I can use an isekai fantasy where someone just runs a NGO.


Bandai Namco Festival 2019

It was a thing.

In a bid to stave off jet lag and fatigue, and partly motivated by procrastination, I want to tackle the two-day festival taken place last weekend at Tokyo Dome now rather than later. I tweeted it enough, but in summary:

  • Bannam has a lot of stuff! But IM@s is where it’s at, for this show.
  • All the idols in under one roof is all one.
  • While it was short on the collab department, there were still some great ones.
Continue reading

Araoto Is Like Pouring for Your Boss, “Araoto to to…”

Thanks to reading to yet another outrageous but understandable take, I remembered that I had some blog posts to write. Instead of dwelling on those unfinished businesses, here’s a non-sequitur of sorts. Very light spoilers ahead.

Araoto, short for “Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo.” (…and complete with the period), is a manga-turned-anime written by Okada Mari. The story and the way the story is told, both in the manga and anime, are extremely signature Okada. Even the subject matter is a standard fare for her. The way Araoto blends in elements from her prior works, (borrowing the climatic pivot from Tari Tari, and basically condensing the emotional whiplash from Nagiasa, I don’t know, among many other things) it feels very much functional rather than meaningful so that the anime is about sex and teenage girls at all.

That being said, Araoto’s topic of sexuality is as a salacious of a topic as you would expect, given that this is entertainment for virgins? I don’t know how else to put it. It might seem both outrageous (funny) and exaggerated (lame), especially when it comes to Mr. Milk-substitute and his charge, the internet-sext-artist. Then there is the very cute story between Rika and her pairing. And the delicious drama bomb-polygon for the rest of them that makes this show even worth watching till the finish. (“Teenage girls and sex”? This is a dog whistle if I’ve ever seen one. Also sign me up already.)

I had to admit I read up on the wiki summary before going in, because seeing a bunch of comedically chaste girls talk about sex can only go so far. (I also wanted to know what dirty phrases Mocho got to say, it helps.) There needs to be that money shot, so to speak, in this emotional porn exercise. It is not an indictment of the show–it’s more just recognizing when you open a bowl of instant noodles, you’re gonna get instant noodles, even if it’s labeled Ichiran ramen or something fancy. Short of going into spoiler territory, let’s just say I’m all for a good student rebellion, and as always I am disappointed.

Looking back to this Okada formula that Araoto walked, it is clear that Okada has really crystalized that formula to a tee and is able to tweak it at will. She knows what will bring the squeal and how to poke us in our most sensitive moments. Now she just needs to go deeper.


A Year+ With Princess Connect! Re:Dive

This is my current mobage workload:

  • T1: Playing a lot (log in several times a day, do all the stuff):
    1. Princess Connect! Re:Dive
    2. THE IDOLM@STER Million Live Theater Days
  • T2: Playing occasionally (daily logins only, with bursts of normal play):
    1. THE IDOLM@STER Shiny Colors
    2. Magia Record (EN)
  • T3: Playing rarely (log in occasionally–just to gacha really):
    1. Hachigatsu no Cinderella 9
    2. THE IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage
    3. Granblue Fantasy

I didn’t mention it on my blog much, but I have been playing Princess Connect! Re:Dive since its launch in 2018 and have been playing it regularly ever since. We are about 1.5 years since launch. I still enjoy that game a lot. Let me write about it.

Basic information and review:

Gameswith
English Reddit
JP Wiki

Princess Connect (Pricone for short) franchise, which first launched in 2015 as a browser game, shut down in 2016. Princess Connect! Re:Dive (Pricone or Pricone-R) launched in 2018 as a mobile app game as a continuation. Pricone-R was originally an Android/iOS game, now also available on PC via DMM. An anime has been announced with no air date, but Studio Wit has extensively provided animation for the app/PC game.

Why do I play it so much? Because it scratches a RPG itch that sort of is at the core of the Cygames RPG theme, yet unlike their other entries, Pricone manages to provide all the flavors with the least amount of filling. “Grinding” this game usually means playing a set 30 or so minutes a day, which completes your dailies and maybe spending a bit of extra time to “tower” or “PVP.” For people who actually are into grinding, this game is going to run dry pretty quick. For people already playing other things or have obligations in RL, it’s an easy thing to keep tabs on and is not laborious.

Re:Dive also balances well between free and paid play, and given its PVP slant there has to be decent balance for the game to still be taken kind of seriously 1.5 years into it. In usual Cygames fashion they are pretty generous with in-game currency, and instead monetize by providing frequent and cheap options to augment your teams. Spending the currency to improve your existing team members usually trumps spending it on gacha, but both do happen.

What I refer to by the Cygames RPG theme I mean generally the following: a stats building core in traditional JRPG sense, the usual rock-paper-scissors damage/defense model, evolving meta (a bit like Shadowverse except it’s with characters and not expansion sets), and clan battle and coop events. In some ways if you are familiar with Cygame’s original properties over the years, you can see those themes progress from one game to the next. In that sense PriconeR reflects a level of maturity in both Cygame’s development process and experience in game design.

One huge way PriconeR reflects mature development process is how it is one of the best quality-of-life games, both in the UI design and in terms of mechanics. Over the last 18 months the game consistently improved its user interface, and updated to add several common shortcuts and to removed mechanics that reduced player enjoyment/added tedium. It’s very clear they are tracking how players are playing the game in a very direct sense, like what menus are being opened and what stages people run, not to mention obvious things like which characters people are raising and using with others and where.

There used to be a player-matching PUG mechanism that gave out pretty decent rewards, but the fights for that feature were so easy that it was just pure grind. The challenge was actually doing the PUG part. That feature got axed pretty quickly because most of the time the players are dealing with the matchmaking interface rather than actually playing the game. You can see that they even upped the reward to get more people to play prior to axing it, but a lot of people cannot be arsed to wait for matches.

Visually, the game is a cute-girls-gets-stuck-in-a-mmorpg kind of a theme. It is very cute and generally the visuals roll between the SD models that you see in the 2D game engine and the full-on anime visuals, or the 2D static graphic for the dialog/adventure game/VN portion. There is a lot of skeuomorphism which adds color to the whole experience of this rustic RPG vibe circa Ragnarok Online. Once in anime mode, though, the game, complete with Kouhei Tanaka-style sounds, reminds me more of Sakura Taisen. The next-episode preview bits for its in-game events and main story chapters drive that home.

Actually the composers for the game range a lot. Tanaka wrote the main theme, but just eyeing through the in-game music store (you can unlock songs from events and the story to use as in-game menu BGM) you see composers like InoTak, for instance. Which is lols.

Day-to-day play

Usually Princess Connect! Re:Dive means clearing the daily quests. It requires stamina (generated over time, the primary gameplay driver) to clear 20 nodes, 3 hard nodes, do 1 Arena battle, do 1 Princess Arena battle, buy mana once, skill up a character, star up a piece of gear, give someone in your clan an “ii ne,” do 1 dungeon battle, do 4 “explorations,” and you get 100 free stamina from noon JST and another 100 stamina at 6pm JST. Occasionally there are events, which are self-contained areas which have their own daily and event-specific quests, plus the monthly Tower of Luna daily and Clan Battle daily.

To do the daily quest as someone in UTC-5, I log in once in the morning and once at night. You have a “room” (similar to Deresute) in which you can grow and farm bonus stamina, exp pots, skip tickets and mana. Harvesting twice or three times a day keeps everything under their maximum limit. Also, that lets me collect the daily quest stamina. So I would probably do the “early day” stuff and finish as many quests as I care for when I log in at night after work, and log in once in the morning to clear out the accumulated stuff in order to finish all the dailies.

I would probably play a bit harder on evenings for Clan Battle nights to save the clan battles for the morning, since it require using up 900 stamina. It’s just easier to wait for the bonus daily stamina. Tower I generally hate so I try to play it only when I’m in the mood for, and have time for.

Since I have been playing the game fairly closely since launch, the routine also carry me at the top of the player level cap all this time, as the level cap extends once or twice a month. Having access to all the content probably makes all this easier from the start. Events are a breeze to grind through, where the challenge is in only clearing the VH boss with 1 try, and the exhibition mode/special mode. In recent months the game has been sort of trying to be more relaxing in order to allow late comers to enjoy the later content.

Meta

Given the PVP drive of the game, there is a lot of advantage for being first mover. To use a recent example, the latest meta-altering character, Neneka, dropped into gacha as a limited character about a couple weeks ago. For the first 2-3 days people were easily topping Arena and Princess Arena. Now it’s full of people with 5* Neneka (and 6* Kyaru) a week since. To get 5* Neneka to rank 14, that is a fairly significant investment that even I was able to make (despite being mostly a free player).

There is definitely an online community for the game in which a meta exists, either because that’s what “gamers” read on the internet or seen others do. Obviously, a social game that is Pricone, with clans and all, people talk about what works and what doesn’t. This especially matters when it comes down to arena and princess arena, which are really just a giant puzzle where if you can recognize the hand the opponent fields, you can figure out your counter. The fun is figuring it out, mostly, because it’s not so fun to play janken when you know what your opponent throws, unless you just want to enjoy winning (and it is enjoyable).

This is at odds with the social/meta nature of this Cygames game (think Shadowverse) where people competitively come up with “teams” (or decks) in which you can beat via some kind of RNG (since you can’t control play). If your team is “rock” enough against an opponent team that is “scissors” enough, you will more likely win than not. So in the end everyone tend to pick teams that are really the rock/paper/scissors that has the most difficult counter. It isn’t even like janken where you have to guess, or like “arena janken” where you have to think about if the opponent’s teams are like rock or paper or scissors, it’s just a matter of balance.

So when a new winning combo drops due to a new character, it becomes fun again. Until the meta settles or is altered (like how Neneca is kind of replaced by Kyaru 6*), it’s kind of fun again.

Conclusion

This game fits my lifestyle. Reality is I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and play. Console games are rough. I can do stints with Steam, although lately my PC needs an upgrade to really enjoy that. Half of that time I am either watching anime or sportsball, or catching up with tons of free seiyuu content online in radios or promotional talk shows or weekly streams. I can grind, and the game has grind-type content if you want it, but I’m never forced to do that, nor does grinding convey so much advantage. I can just put in my 20 minutes a day if that is all I have time for. I can even skip if I really want to.

The game is also fun, which is why I have not gotten bored with it. The QoL changes over time makes the game less painful to other entries. The art and voice over (fully voiced game) is top notch and the anime style really apes from that Sakura Wars-shaped hole in my life.

It also helps that the main story is kind of interesting, although I don’t really care too much about the characters themselves. It is a serious game with silly characters and I’ve had enough of those. They are features I don’t need, but enjoy, and maybe others like them more.

So overall this is a great little gem of a game that could take off in the right situation. In South Korea the game apparently is doing very well, and it isn’t too bad in Taiwan/HK/Macau either. I believe there is even a Chinese knockoff of it now. Pricone shows that a quality product that does many of the little things right will still find an audience.