Category Archives: Popular Culture

Re: Generative AI

If we strip the buzz, the latest hubbub and media attention on generative AI are large scale data models used to generate youtube video scripts and images that are approximately human-made in quality. But this is not really new or novel. Anyone who have seen computer graphics evolve the last 20-30 years would know we have came a long way from 8-bit Mario, PS2 Cloud Strife, to whatever the hell Final Fantasy movies they stopped making because people are no longer interested in feature films with hyper-realistic computer visuals.

The really interesting or attention-grabbing aspect about ChatGPT or whatever is that now a larger group of people have easy access to these tools in order to further achieve our self-actualization of desires, to put it crudely. It doesn’t take millions of dollars, just tens, to thousands now. The average above-average gaming rig can make more ero content faster than one whole Comiket in the same half-year span, to use a random, cherry-picked benchmark, in voice, words and images. Not that it would be as good, although it wouldn’t be something we can completely ignore.

And I think this is where it stands. Proliferation of computer 3D modeling tools gave us dancing Miku, but also a lot of 3D ero content. Those are just some examples, and it’s really everything in between and more. But as they say this is old hat. It’s not that we can’t create life-like visuals, enough to fool people. Unreal Engine 5 is a compelling example, even if it leaves much to be desired still. But these gaps will be there for the foreseeable future–it’s a feature of the uncanny valley. And arguably we are only at the early stages of discovering these types of features in these other forms and modes of expression.

I asked Google Bard about this topic in general, and it seems that there are companies, productions and animation shops that use generative AI in their work, of course besides the examples I listed of the older technology that effectively does the same thing. It is actually not a huge surprise that Bing and Google Search are in the mix of this, because a search engine, or Google Assistant, is effectively the same sort of mode in which a chatbot that gives you some answers largely based in search results can provide.

Just like this person who made a Miki Hoshii bot to send him emails (AI mimicking games mimicking life), I expect these creative uses to actually be in the products I consume. It’s all there already, just missing the LLM part.

Bard also gave me some pitfalls or dangers, mostly having to do with creating unwanted content in more authentic forms than ever–fake, spoofed stuff mostly. So, sure, authenticity is the real issue at core, but the expression is likely slightly different. It’s not deepfake trying to manipulate humans, it’s deepfake targeted at bots. The bigger risk is just what’s problematic today: plain, garden variety spam. It would be easy (as it already is done) to create a whole web of sites for SEO purposes. You can GPT4 your way into this automatically, and it wouldn’t cost a lot. Does Google Search know how authentic the content is? Because if we rely on tools today, built yesterday, with yesterday’s assumptions engineered into the way it works, will it still work tomorrow when these generative systems are pervasive and better than ever?

We need the strongest antispam features these large data models can provide, right?

There are also the legal aspects of it, which are mirky at best. I think it’s a fair callout for all the artists worried about their prospective customers can GAN their way out of commissioning jobs. But that is not reason enough to throw shade at the tech and its advancement. This is very much a horse buggy moment for those folks, so they can use our support in ways to move out of that job or work in a way where it’s more resistant of being automated out of their jobs. Writers and other creatives already had to live with other tech eating their lunch for decades as more of the world become code. Not that it’s “okay” but I guess in 2023 we should not be surprised about any of this, as there are more and more people who are organized to deal with the fallout and changes these disruptions can bring.

Frankly, the less we can say about copyright the better. Yes it’s broken. People like myself have been saying this for decades. But there is no will to go fix this once and for all, just small amount of people all over being aggrieved about some aspect of it, even if in collective, that’s a lot of people. It is not really the right mechanism to regulate the way internet has transformed the lives of individuals, for starters. [Nobody cares about Mickey Mouse, really, so what is Disney worried about?] It’s hard to understand, hard to rally around, it has too many stake holders, and it’s really important–too big to change without having some fallout possibly. It’s not that we should talk loudly about copyright, but it’s not in this space I think. Marching up to Congress with a million protestors is the right thing to do perhaps, to use an extreme, but it’s gonna happen because of furry artists are getting paid less.

Anyways, it’s a great time to actually learn more about the nuts and bolts of what these systems really are, to cut through the hype marketing that surrounds any next-gen tech deals with when it finally goes from the lab and ivory towers of academia to the hands of everyday folk. It can give amazing results, but it’s also not that crazy! As they say, something is indistinguishable from magic is only because people are incapable to learn how to, but this is not the case with this tech. Plain old human beings came up with these, it really is not rocket science.

Info Ghettos

An ongoing thing I think about over the years is the level of discourse in the fandom verticals I follow. I think it’s a practical, rubber-meets-the-road sort of thing where fans discuss, organize, and understand what they’re doing, what they are consuming, and the impact of their actions (as well as the action of their content providers). The drive to seek to understand is often an underpinning force behind the reason why fans seek out things, from pilgrimages to simple literary analysis.

It’s not to say that a more sophisticated discourse is better, but rather the general rule is that you want to have many different discourses–possibly as many as possible to the extent that some discourses might prohibit others, so we don’t want just those. It is kind of the fallacy to think humanity can only do one thing at a time: feed the poor versus going to space, for example. Or to think a character can only be shipped one way (in a serious sense). There may be a list of priorities that may be important to a fandom, but individuals within it will have varying priorities at all times. In general, people will think what they think, and we always have to fight our tendency to want to monopolize or manipulate it, to allow everyone the space to express themselves within the allowed bounds. It’s extra credit to make the space safe and conducive to additional discourse to let that fandom flower, as I think humans naturally will blossom even if you just leave them alone and provide the bare minimum.

In as such, this is what fandom ghettos are like–just masses of people left to do what they are to do, unorganized and generally letting their previous training guiding them. I think that is probably okay, as far as a human condition goes. I also think we can do much better, assuming enough attention, human resources, money, and will (political or otherwise) is present. After all there can only be so many discussions about who your favorites are. The more discourses we have, by nature, there will be some that are more sophisticated as we come up with more new things to talk about.

To that end, I think it’s easy to think we can elevate that discourse by leadership: leading by example, specifically. I think one of the best example is the Sakugabooru folks. It takes some level of sophistication to talk about sakuga, even if on some level it’s one of the most visceral thing about that particular type of fandom. Anime news is another, although that’s closer to acts of, say, translation and retweeting an announcement where the “discourse’ Is largely one-way and can be extremely nuanced and complicated, and given it is one way folks don’t appreciate how that is until they try it themselves.

Which is to say, it’s not really the only way going forward. I use the term ghetto in part because, unlike nice neighborhoods, they cost very little to maintain and to live in. If your community doesn’t have gates, there’s no gate keeping so to speak. And at some level, we all start with basics like simple favorites and go from there, so as a fan mature over time, ever stage of that journey needs some degree of respect and attention in order to get folks moving up the chain, if that’s what you want. Every step of the way is important, but especially the first.

I also use the term, in part, to highlight a level of inequality and that discrimination does occur in fan spaces based on where people live in figuratively. It is not a coincidence that some forms of entertainment are attached to status and wealth. In the age of mass media and social media, this might not be as big of an issue since massively popular content are often democratizing as well as extremely attractive to everyone, even those in high towers, but discriminatory attitudes persists both ways, from the top looking down and vice versa.

Where am I going with this post: Anime Tube and ANN’s coverage. And some meta stuff. There are a few more highlights.

  1. Professional media/journalism operate with some kind of means to some kind of ends that are pretty well spelled out. It’s definitely admirable that some sites expose predators in the industry at some risk (being female and harassed by internet mobs is a real danger). But I think this is a situation where we put ourselves in. We can do better. In this day and age there are a truck ton of “anime fans” and unlike video game sites, anime sites are still quite rare, at least in English. We need to gather crew on media and press so we have the right people with the right tools and experiences to deal with the issues (and dangers) of a profession that is covering things loved by (tens of? hundreds of?) millions of people worldwide.
  2. Social media has taken a lot of the work out of traditional media in the anime space. I think there is even more of a reason for authoritative sources of information to band together (informally) to make certain information available. It is about crafting narratives, and this is really hard to do when there are only 2-3 major English news site that covers “the scene” in depth. There are also several sizable sites that do the opposite, and really just click-bating with tabloid content (or worse). I think this is a real need that is being filled by Youtubers, and this situation can be observed across all different fan spaces (and non-fan spaces).
  3. All of it is just to say, if you build it, they will come. Unfortunately it’s also one of those things where it isn’t as if people have not tried before. I used to write for such a site, some might remember, that tried this. But frankly no matter how willing the spirit is, the body is weak.
  4. Let’s not forget how a group like Anime Tube can even get this far–it had to survive in the vacuums where the light of reality had little grasp on the way a company can go about the business of streaming anime. The moment they step into that light, they are probably toast. Frankly lit or not, anime will continue to be consumed, but maybe, just maybe, it’s good for the community for content to be tied to the rest of the apparatus (a visible and clear relationship with, say, the people who create the thing to sell toys or whatever).

Fans can and should take responsibility and I think with sites like ANN being where it is, some fans have. But when it comes to this Japanese cartoon, games, and comics stuff, industry are not really sowing it where it needs to be done. Part of this is in marketing budgets, part of it is the gap between western publishers and Japanese publishers. Some of it is just unsophistication (arguably the MPAA/RIAA only “got” all this in the last 10 years, for a point of comparison). Part of it is the Galapagos syndrome the entire culture of Japan has regarding doing business. There are many other factors still.

Which is all just to say, it isn’t even fair if fans can meet corporate half way. We are their paying customers, they really should go as far as they possibly can. Unfortunately, that’s most of the time not even half way. In that sense, the one thing I’m most grateful for Crunchyroll is its ability to slosh around the community and be a bridge to connect the consumers with the “source” which means, yes, they too run a news site. Yes, they post new seiyuu and anisong music videos (bless them) guised as articles. We are at the point where PR needs to be in English first, let alone actual reporting (heroic as they were at times) that ANN seems to pride itself on. There’s such a huge swath of news that just die in the void of the language barrier that there is no end to what needs to be translated, spun, and thrown out there.

I think if Netflix want to spend 10 million in the next 3-4 years to do an anime news/community site, that will do wonders for this entire sector. They can afford it and there will be results from this outreach type work. The work Bandai Namco is doing with Gundam (if Netflix can work it out) and gunpla may mean there’s a path there for that series. Who knows? But what makes sense is the full package, not just the anime by itself. Maybe this just means we need more slumlords today.

Anisong 2020 Remote Special

One giant postscript that I should’ve added last post is the stuff that happened in 2020 after the world went into shutdown mode in the early days of the pandemic. Well, regarding anime music at least, there were a lot of online collabs in 2020 that are worth remembering and calling out as a result of musicians and similar types who lost gigs from the shutdown and had to make do with online and remote stuff, some free, because what else are we going to do other than Animal Crossing?

This better serves as its own post to remember what happened anyway, so a list. Also, I am not going to remember all the ones worth highlighting so any help in the comments is a great add.

The Seatbelt online project was pretty rocking, and the online Tanabata stream was really frigging good. I can’t understate how good that was. Like, that is once-a-decade level good. In addition to the big show (which has other YK stuff), there were a bunch of Youtube releases of re-recorded songs from the show. I even bought this vinyl, lol.

YOASOBI struck gold late 2019/2020 and Yori ni Kakeru was the third or second-most covered song in anisong-world, in 2020. I don’t know:

The First Take did fill a void in 2020 when we were void of the usual variety shows and live performance footage, so check out their channel. Even if they started in 2019, 2020 was a good year for what they do.

Watanabe Keiko’s vocaloid covers are pretty solid! I think the Crypton-sponsored Vocaloid social game launching brought a lot of that stuff back in the fore.

Then there are things like Yamamura Hibiku’s covers, which is in line with what indie artists do, pandemic or not. Maybe the song choice?

If you watched Kurocon, it was quite the covid event and we brought marble to our first show! They had been doing a lot on Youtube during the year. Micco from marble has her own covers during the lockdown here. Acoustic sets from some of their hits are on their official channel.

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Practical Eventing Problems

With the new Walkure tour announced yesterday, I think one thing is clear is that as Japan (and other first-world nations) slowly emerges from pandemic-induced shutdowns and slowdowns, the US is going to be lagging these countries in international travel allowances.

By most metrics, the USA has done a below-average job as a first-world nation in dealing with the Coronavirus. Unfortunately the price to be paid from an eventing point of view is that international travel will resume slower for Americans going to and from other countries that have successfully reduced the spread and the number of infections.

Given most big character-franchise lives tend to announce events on a 3-to-6-month rolling basis, we might be clearing the initial hurdles in Japan with events rolling out early 2021. Will oversea tourism resume in Japan? Until this happens it would be quite hard to travel there to attend any events.

Maybe you can think that once a vaccine is available things will be better. I think that’s true generally, but it would be hard to know if this extends to how tourists are going to be let in. For one, it only seems responsible to do so after the vaccines are widely available and administered, and the timeline for that is likely as long as developing the vaccine in the first place.

Perhaps it is a backstop of sorts, regardless the challenge that lies between today and those goal posts. There is that postponed Tokyo Olympics, so I think things will come to a head early 2021. Of course, I don’t think athletes and their support crews will have trouble going to Japan, but I think Japan will be economically and politically pressured to allow tourism by this summer if things are playing out to the best case scenarios.

That means the domestic events from November onward until then will be blocked for a lot of oversea fans! And that is in a best-case basis. This is not even addressing the lack of Japanese guests in oversea events (read: US cons), which is a different ball of wax with different sets of risks.

Of course, Japan is not risk-free now, nor will they be in the coming months as more of their social distancing limits are lifted. I imagine until they also get widely vaccinated, leisure gatherings will be reduced. Venues are still limited to 50% capacity for now, so we’ll see in november if this means things are really spiking–and if full-blown events are really going to happen again soon.

Game Saves World Billions in Productivity with Region Block

[Below is parody content?]

Popular movies and video games have long since been correlated with productivity loss. For example, popular science fiction franchise Star Wars has been the lead in this category, when its blockbuster film launches lead to countless students and employees to call out to go to the theaters on release day. Similarly, the recently launched Japanese video game, THE IDOLM@STER: Shiny Colors, cause millions of dollars in loss productivity, following its recent launch last week.

In a stroke of genius, the developers of Shiny Colors limited the game for play to Japanese internet users only. By region-limiting the HTML5-based game platform, Bandai Namco has saved an estimated $50B USD in productivity loss, experts say.

The free-to-play video game platform is the latest entry in the popular franchise, THE IDOLM@STER. The Japanese-gamer oriented properties started in 2005 and has spawned countless video games, TV shows, movies, and tie-ins of all kind, such as a mixed-reality VR theatrical show. While domestic audiences still beared the brunt of the damage in loss productivity, the prudent business move limited the damage to just Japanese domestic businesses.

“It is a noble sacrifice,” said financial analyst Akihiro Nakamura from UBS. “The joke was that the devops were going to all call out sick and play during launch, but the region blocking already saved us millions across our Americas and Europe branches. Despite their best efforts otherwise, Bandai-Namco is still going to boost their prospective stock price for this fiscal year just on the preliminary revenue projections.”