Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

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.

Dissonant Antarctica

I read this and like, I have a very different impression of Yorimoi. Let me quote:

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (A Place Further Than The Universe) is remarkably well done. Before the season started, I fully expected it to be a trite “cute-girls-doing-cute-things” fluff piece about high school girls having implausibly canned adventures in Antarctica. However, it turns out Yorimoi adopts a serious attitude toward exploring the logistics required and examining just how something like this might actually be accomplished. I take it as a triumph of original anime that the story seems well thought out and enjoyable in ways that are often missing from anime adaptations of preexisting works, particularly when such anime try hard (to their detriment) to closely follow the source material.

Wait, so Yurucamp TV, a manga adaptation that is all about the details of doing camping as a bunch of high school girls in the fall/winter time frame, does not adopt a serious attitude towards exploring the logistics required and examining just how something like camping might actually be accomplished? Are we even watching the same things?

Disclosure: I dropped Yorimoi like 3 episodes in, as I didn’t buy in to any of the main characters except the tarento. It’s not a trite “cute-girls-doing-cute-things” fluff piece. It’s an “annoying-girls-doing-weird-things” piece, where I often find the characters obnoxious and incorrigible, for weird character development reasons I’m sure they’ll explore later but I can’t be bothered to care–or stick around long enough to find out. I guess it also doesn’t help that Antarctica is not that an exotic location to me, since I’ve read up about it over the years following research that was done down there, and talked to a guy who spent some time there. The show itself is well done, I think, but the posture came across as too full of itself and there’s a degree of calculatedness that runs against my expectation of something that’s more organic in the making.

Actually Yurucamp gets it. What Yorimoi might take a season to do, Yurucamp does it in 1 to 2 episodes. And in essence, it does what I want to see, and just keeps on doing it. How many times did the girls in Yorimoi go to Antartica yet? (I guess episode 8 by the time of this writing.) It doesn’t need that setup. I don’t need to be hit in the face with your quirky personality quirks every few minutes. That some people in Japan have the balls to make a story about high schoolers wanting to go to Antartica, in 2017 terms, is just too much for me to take seriously–except it’s a serious anime! I’d rather watch a show where a bunch of Japanese high schoolers try to raise fund for a summer vacation in New York City–at least I find their destination worth investing in terms of my emotions and attention span. After all, NYC too is quite far, basically it’s as far as another world.

It’s worth examining what “cute-girls-doing-cute-things” mean for each work. I’ve been watching anime since the 90s, at least following TV anime with any real interests, and this descriptor dates back well even before that. I remember watching Magic Knight Rayearth–cute girls doing isekai RPG but in a meta way–and that was already a pretty solid framing of this notion. If somehow the Kirara-manga-adaptation brand has altered this category by flooding the market with trendy cute-girls-doing-not-much anime, please show how this is the case. I can understand, say, shows like Jinsei or Anne-Happy, or something, don’t get into the nitty gritty–but they aren’t shows about doing something. I just don’t understand the criticism as applied to manga or light novel adaptation in which the details are omitted, in which we can apply “cute-girls-doing-cute-thing” tag to. Death March? That is not even in the same genre. Slow Start and Mitsuboshi Colors? Yeah okay, but they aren’t about doing anything specific really (well, Slow Start is about mental trauma, I guess, and Mitsuboshi is about brats being brats). Koizumi is like Yurucamp that they are both very meticulous about specifics, and adopt from manga. Does that leave Takunomi as the only show that fits Evirus’s description?

I just don’t think that statement has any merit. In the scope of things Yorimoi is well-put-together, and there’s a strong feeling of production value? But I find the writing and direction betraying the same expectation in a negative way instead.