Category Archives: Popular Culture

Theme Cafes and Mobage

I was reading some twitter tweets to Swallowtail, the famed Ikebukuro butler cafe. It struck me that these are the kind of things well-executed theme restaurants do. And then it also struck me that this is why I play IM@S Million Live, because it is a well-executed game in a similar manner.

It may or may not be fair to say that theme restaurants are gimmicky. Well, they are just normal eateries with a focus. Andrew Zimmern went to one that’s a prison-themed place. I went to an IDOLM@STER themed cafe (I suppose a cafe or a restaurant is an equally important distinction). I don’t know what is different between the two other than the focus and the type of food each places serve.

Hit-Girl?

If we consider social games or mobile games in that sense, they are gameplay-as-a-secondary-offering games with various themes. And it’s about how these themes execute that makes them or break them, at least for some people. If you want to dine in prison, as a theme restaurant patron, what does it mean? What should go into it? Perhaps it still should be comfortable, but in a way that reminds you that you are in a prison. Perhaps the food should reflect thematically. The atmosphere of the place might be prison-like. It goes on.

And by “secondary offering” I merely mean it is not the central point, as much as it is at best just as important to the purpose of these games or restaurant, which is about some kind of entertaining user experience. Anyway, I don’t want to belittle somehow these things as games or not. Just like I wouldn’t belittle a delicious meal served by cosplayers or by just about anyone else.

Things are a little more vague when we talk about details. To put it in context, when we dine and review the experience, it is usually things like service, quality of food, the value of the meal, if the taste meets the expectation, atmosphere, wait time, and other things like that. In video games, it’s about similar things, except we would translate it to how fun it is, the complexity, the learning curve, how the gameplay integrate with the game’s narrative, how polished the code is, what have you. Like your average yelp or whatever review.

It’s entirely possible to rate a game based on the number of idols available in it.

Ever read reviews like these? And think it’s retarded? I guess that’s kind of like rating how good a buffet restaurant with how many dishes…wait. I guess it just goes to show how video game reviews seem to be a little oddish when put into that “casual” point of view.

But details nonetheless. Like the cylume color of Shiho’s card for Liar Rouge is white and not red? Or blue? Or brown? Because fans called it out on them? Or the selection of images that may make up a collage which tells a narrative behind an ongoing event? Or how the CD releases coordinates with in-game events? Or how in-game cards nods at in-fandom jokes?

Well, that’s par for the course for these character-collecting social games. It’s the extra mile a game like ML goes that impresses me over the other ones I’ve played. But I think this case can be made across the genre, especially when they’re mixed-media franchises with room to collaborate between all of these things.

But for those of us who are easier to please, or who might be open to these kinds of experiences, what values is the execution, the exquisiteness, the finer details of life. It doesn’t matter if you are tapping against rings shooting out of a moving beat or trying to figure out how much money you need to spend to win, it’s more about what it brings to you; what it buys. For those of us that time and money can actually buy things that make us happy in this context–it might be an after-meal espresso or a pile of “energy drinks” that replenishes your in-game stamina–is it worthwhile?

Yeah, it is closer to gambling (the casino style) as a lifestyle and entertainment than, say, buying a book so you can read it on your own terms, even if it exists somewhere in between. But I don’t think the world would want only one or the other and never both, to exist as options for anyone and everyone. At the same time, if you’ve ever been to places like Atlantic City or Las Vegas, these are pretty crass institutions. When a dirt-cheap looking mobile game can deliver (I still feel like Cinderella Girls is just a glorified pachinko interface, at least the Japanese one) the same experience on your budget smart-whatever device, maybe it’s time to rethink all this.

It also explains why there’s still all this resistance from what typifies as “gamers” to accept mobile gaming. I don’t think of it either way, other than as long as people are comfortable with this sort of things coexisting.

Which is also to say there are not much in terms of maid cafes and that type of theme restaurants in the US for much the same reasons. It’s a pity.


Attitudes about Copyright

sweaters

The preface here is that opinions are personal and I just happen to dislike the one kind of perpetrated here. I realize when you are dealing with concepts like Copyright and DMCA takedown notices it can seem mightily esoteric. But if I were to author (and I’m not qualified) a Dummy’s guide to best use copyright as an indie artist, this is not the tone I’d take. Of course.

That said, it is a pretty copyright-heavy approach to explain the tools of the trade. In fact if you understood what is infringement and what isn’t, all that’s left is the DMCA process which a lot of popular site has it automated or guided. If not all it takes is an email and maybe follow up. But that’s, in my opinion, heavy handed for an indie artist point of view.

Here’s the thing. Copyright is not a black and white deal. It’s different enough from stealing that I would avoid the comparison all together. It’s easier to think of it as correct or incorrect use and leave the value judgment out. Why? Because for indie artists using the internet as a way to make a living by using it to distribute their work, buying into the copyright framework that are crafted heavily in favor of the majors may ultimately be a policy negative for your livelihood. It’s the likes of Disney that wrote the rules that oversees the core framework that is part of the 1986 Copyright Act. If you don’t like how that company operates in terms of how they deal with artistic individuals, you might want to consider the rules these companies came up with to protect their intellectual property.

The leeway built into the typical Copyright regime allows each creator to do whatever they wish, ultimately. It’s not to say we should talk about Creative Commons or whatever in a piece aim to teach people what is left and what is right in the realm of Copyright law, but taking that perspective is a disservice. There has to be a more neutral one.

OK so my bones is basically the fair use part. Which the copyleft founders addressed over a decade ago. Which is ever the smaller slice today. Don’t even bother with unenumerated fair use. Just bullet out what uses are excepted and leave the four-factor test to lawyers. Because no matter how fair your fair use may be, if Disney’s high power lawyers targets you, they will probably win. If someone DMCAs your work, it will go down and you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to get it back online. Don’t even go into the “chilling” space.

TL;DR:

  • DO NOT TAKE pictures words etc from other sites and say it’s yours, or use however you want because it looks good, etc. At the very least link back.
  • DO follow this Copyright stuff to the tee if you think it’s okay to hurt fellow indies for sake of the Man that’ll screw you over however they want whenever they want.
  • Good to learn DMCA takedowns but only use when you absolutely must.

One last thing: I wrote this reaction piece mainly as a data point in terms of how I have came to terms with the way copyright law has been shaped the past 10 years. In spirit, copyright legislation and jurisprudence have always been best viewed, IMO, as a way to regulate a subject, an industry. It’s not about rights (beyond the usual “ownership” BS, first sales stuff, and artists’ rights) as much as how to make a buck, and these giant companies that have made a fortune on top of it, versus the very things they were able to monetize–the creativity of individuals. I still firmly believe these things are not zero-sum; as in the copyright concept has a place. How it has played out just taxes my faith in how the alternative can ever be worse than this. I’m entirely open to other systems, but given the inertia we have in the present status, how any changes can go is beyond me.


Cultural Differences in Sports Anime And Manga

HN Matsuri Tokugawa

Ed from Vertical wrote a blurb about sports anime and manga and it is, in my opinion, the baseline. He covered a few things that are challenges or causes why sports anime/manga just don’t take off in the States.

Viz tried promoting Slam Dunk with the NBA. That didn’t work. They marketed Whistle! with US Soccer before a World Cup. That didn’t work. They partnered with the NFL for Eyeshield. That didn’t work. Were their plans perfect? No. But they sure tried and with some of the biggest brands in sports. Sports anime rarely seems to work in English. So tying in anime fans to their respective manga is almost pointless.

Story-wise most sports anime are high school based. That poses a problem cause the structure is different for sports in Japan vs the US. Sports in the US are league based, so teams play full seasons before a playoff tournament. In Japan high schools are almost entirely tournament only. So where in the US kids train thru playing games; in Japan they train to play games. Also as these works are fiction there is a lack of familiarity with characters and teams. It may be hard for casual readers to understand the rules of certain games if they aren’t already fans of that sport.

I would also say there might be some social resistance as faces and names are not what people see from their heroes in the US.

If you drill down on examples, yeah, Slam Dunk, Eyeshield, etc all have additional factors and issues as far as why nobody gave them a damn outside of Asia, but a fundamental one is the contextual one. Just like sports culture is ingrained in America mainstream consciousness, the same is for Japan. And when Japanese writers create sports stories they rely on those assumptions and cultural norms, which often don’t translate well to the States. High school level sports organization is entirely a different bag than the Japanese one for all the popular sports like baseball, basketball, etc.

I’m thinking these differences  even comes down to what people are looking for in entertainment in terms of narratives involving sports. Why do people read ESPN? SI? Or write Breaking Madden? Or watch 30 for 30? I don’t know, but I feel that’s kind of the mentality that ultimately has to be catered to for Americans to care about sports fiction.

And in order to get over that hurdle, maybe what it takes is either for people to buy in on the context (eg., anime fans who dig characters and the tournament plot), or for people who are in for the giggles and can live without it (eg., Shaolin Soccer). It’s like sports comedies.

It makes me wonder if anime/manga sports comedies actually have a shot at making it in the States. It’s never been done in a serious way, as far as I know. And probably not something like Teekyuu…

I wonder how anime/manga fans would feel about something like Friday Night Lights. Or maybe if someone made a manga adaptation. That’s the kind of issues, I am assuming, that western audiences of “sports” media would enjoy.

At any rate, I think we all need to understand this before going forward. Maybe it doesn’t really mean much; what are hits are hits. I do know that in general I don’t enjoy sports manga mainly for these kinds of reasons. The narratives about real life sports leagues, teams and players are so much better than what Japan’s fictional ones have to offer, partly because the fictional ones are usually about something else entirely different.


How I Watch Anime

This is a long form comment for this blog post. Chaos-kun does good work and I feel the call to pitch in:

I am genuinely interested in how other anime bloggers approach watching and writing about anime – so in a rare show of audience solicitation: let me know in the comments or in a post of your own how you go about this blogging malarkey.

Haruka & the Crabs

But, see, I don’t write about anime. I watch anime, and I write as a part of that experience. My horse is squarely in front of the cart. The funny thing is I also write for a site where the writing comes before the anime, or at best together. In short, writing, discussing, participating in the fandom for anime, may it be for a specific title or thing or the broader identity-political community and everything in between, greatly influences my watching.

It’s actually similar to how having a “theater room” and nice a TV (or projector or whatever) and sound system can have an impact in how you watch anime. In that sense you get out as much as you put in, except in a different way. For example, a long-time observation is that anime viewing in the west is a largely decontextualized exercise. It’s like how you might watch a comedy about an indigenous African interact with a Coke bottle in the ’80s, you can do the same with Americans and Europeans with Japanese cartoons. All I want to do is be able to not only have the option to re-contextualize my anime (like, for example, understand all the references; but also understand how Japanese fandom interact with anime and how anime answers back;  how anime is a part of their lives), but also be able to enjoy it for what it is, with or without context. I mean, all I seek is understanding. And it isn’t like I can’t enjoy Star Blazer or Robotech, I just can’t stop there.

To use the anime diet analogy (we’ll come back to this in a moment), it is the difference of being able to digest the nutrients of what you eat versus being able to understand the palettes excited by the food particles that went through your mouth, and write it down in floral and verbose texts to put on a blog post. The latter is why I write about anime; some anime is friggin awesome and I have to deal with what happens after I watch it. The former is kind of like the true enjoyment value of what I’m watching, or maybe the educational or thematic payload. This might be part of what makes B cinema fun to engage in, but I think the analogy stands to all kinds of other entertainment.

In that sense, I enjoy watching anime because of both. There are plenty of crap anime, guilty pleasure, plain pleasure, kind of guilty, tits and ass, or whatever other people call it. If it fits my constitution and I have the time for it, then I would watch it. This is also why I think of Africans and Coke bottles because you have people complaining how something is of poor nutritional health and others are saying it tastes great and have less filling. I’m like, geesus, nobody said you can’t drink light beer, and nobody is forcing you to. Except instead of light beer it’s just some late-night TV anime.

But when we go on the long haul, things are different. A balanced diet is the turning point between an obsession and a lifestyle. I say this partly as a warning–being in fandom for some time I’ve seen people falling in and out of it, and for all sorts of reasons. Some people may OD and burn out, but that may not always be a bad thing. For others because they have found balance in how to incorporate this anime hobby thing into the way they live, and are comfortable of the sacrifices they make for it, they are still doing this anime thing as if it’s 1989. I’m not judging, but each should judge within themselves to make the right decision. Well, rather, only if you are in the long haul and sufficiently distant and comfortable with the thing can you make a rational one anyway. Although for some the rational one might not even be the best one.

It’s like when I think about a friend who has a series of NAS and dozens of terabyte+ drives, who spent thousands of dollars and who-knows-how-many hours on his rigs, where a majority of that storage is just BakaBT seeds, I question the point behind the exercise. I’m not really judging, but at some point you can go beyond that point of balance. It’s just coming from someone like me, who at best downloads some fansubs just so I can delete them after I watch them (I’d rather spend money on anime goods than another HDD), it seems a little alien. But at the same time I feel my money is just going into a drain somewhere given the nature of what anime goods tend to be in this part of the world, where has you can always use a NAS. It’s like the difference of living to watch anime and living where anime serves as a specific aspect to the way you live.

[This is why I have no love for US DVD/BD releases outside of Aniplex and the occasional NISA boxes; they feel like POS. It’s like I can spend $400 on those R2 Fate/Zero BD sets and be like, “hey Mandarake is still selling them for 2/3 of what I paid them for” just because of what I actually bought in a physical sense–a finely, thoughtfully craft collector’s item. Not some wannabe, crappily crafted collector’s item that makes up far majority of such releases in R1. Because that sort of context matters not to Americans.]

But that is just more context and background. So when I make caps from CR for my too-legit-to-quit anime writing gig, I basically use the “view in dedicated window” feature, pause wherever, screen-cap the window (720), and paste it in a psd file in photoshop. In that psd file I have a pre-defined selection that crops exactly where the video is. The only real challenges in capping a CR stream is the seeking of a streaming file, and accidentally capping with the timestamp pop-in within the image. The occasional CR watermark may show up but I stopped giving that a damn. Oh, I guess sometimes I do turn off the subs, case-by-case.

This is a rather laborious method than hot-keying every-so-often to do a screen cap (or what some people do which is use some program to do it for you then sift through that), so instead I make sure I watch what I do episodic-blog at least more than once, so I already know which scenes I want to capture. Naturally, I don’t episodic blog much here, because just this one aspect of blogging kills any momentum I have about blogging anime. And when I did, I basically used a camera. Remember my Xam’d posts, guys?

After I’m done capping I use some simple Photoshop features to save for web, and resize/crop when it needs to be done. That’s basically it. And as you can see, FUNi’s streams is simply uncappable using this method, so to hell with that.

But the funny thing is, even with a file (of the right format) it still takes me a good amount of time to cap. I just take too much time thinking about that, and it doesn’t really make my life that much easier. Because all of that teeth pulling makes up my think time about writing about anime.

Ultimately, when I blog about anime it’s because there’s a specific idea or ideas I want to express, or some specific thing I want to say, like an observation or even a funny little detail. Without it, it feels really retarded to just have an opinion on something. I need some kind of context to put it all together. A story, a narrative, a gut feeling. Whatever it might be, that should what drives what you write.

The great anime for blogging, for me, are the shows that fills me with these things after I’m done watching them. The ideas come easy. I know where to screen cap. The words write themselves. So that tends to be the stuff I write about, because they fight the crud in the way of enjoying anime to the fullest. Also it would just seem I have more to say, and higher chance of something worthwhile to say about it. The opposite is true too, both in that some shows I watch don’t really fill me with ideas so I don’t write about them, and shows that I have a hard time watching and understanding typically are shows I don’t write about either.

As an aside, I love anime bloggers who are actually thoughtful about what they write. Almost as much as those who put sweat equity into what they write. Those people are good people.

I rotated this image...

The way I watch anime  has changed over time along with the nature of anime and the technological advances and changes. The way I write also reflects that change, but in ways that don’t show up in a typical blog post “made for consumption.” In a sense that makes my writing much harder to understand in a gut feeling kind of way, because it’s as if I’m cracking inside jokes to myself. Anime fandom has gotten younger and more vibrant, where as I am not so much. Compare to my younger self, today I am probably more interested in appreciating anime for what it is than the stuff surrounding it, but only because I’ve gotten beyond all that jazz. Ironic, I guess, but it’s more like there’s a fine line between worrying about blogging than worrying about having something worthwhile to say. Now THAT is ironic.

But that doesn’t make me immune to the minutiae. Right now, my number one worry is that dead Sony receiver of mine. The low-end receiver went kaput like 2 months past the warranty. LOL. The HDMI inputs don’t switch right anymore, and maybe this week I can score a low-end receiver for an appropriately low price. As you can see I don’t put a lot of stock in sound, but probably more than many, like everything else about my anime viewing habits.

So for now the annual introspection series can wait till next week. As you know, all I’m going to write about is The Idolm@ster anyway.


It’s Not Comedy

I’m not a huge fan of portmanteau, so consider this a factor of bias.

Dream team

I was reading the APR a few days ago and someone made a comment on how Shirobako is a dramedy. It was like a trigger, in that I thought several things in rapid succession, like, what drug is Mike on? What is dramedy anyway? Is Shirobako a what? What was it again? What does it even mean? I guess he is based in Socal so the language flows a certain way? Is this just me overreacting?

Well, in a specific context, the term dramedy means the same as, and as far as I can google, dramatic-comedy or comedy drama or any combination of those two terms. It also means more or less what it says–a hybrid of sorts specifically in the TV/radio drama sense. In a more rigorous scheme, many dramatic-comedies are probably still just dramas. The term (or the hybrid genre) grew as a factor of mass marketing and a need to distinguish different types of TV shows.

Because, truth is, everything is to a degree comedic. Most sad stories have moments of levity and humor. Most happy stories contain serious themes. It’s not something categorically you want to spin out meaningfully in earnest discussion. And again, really something specific to American mass entertainment (TV/movies) and its subsequent development thereof.

The “triggering” nature of this line of thought stayed with me a while and I ran into a couple pieces which reflects these. For starters, there’s an interview with comedian Chris Rock that might be worth reading for various other reasons, but let me pull one part here. [Bold for interviewer, some formatting removed]

I don’t think people understand how hard it is to write comedy. The gestation period, the trying out of jokes, the whittling them down — a lot of people may not understand that, in some ways, drama may be easier.

It’s not may. It is easier.

Go on.

It just is. Hey, man, I loved Gone Girl. Loved it. But you could probably get other directors — I’m not saying they’d make it as good as Fincher, but you could get it from beginning to end and get a reaction out of it, where you can’t really do that with comedy.

Every moment has to pay off.

In this sense, comedy’s really fair. It’s not like music, where you can hire Timbaland and he gives you a beat and a song, and even though you can’t sing it’s a hit. Comedy, especially stand-up comedy, it’s like: Who’s funny?

It’s a ruthless marketplace.

It’s the only thing that smacks Hollywood out of its inherent racism, sexism, anti-­Semitism. It makes people hire people that they would never hire otherwise. Do they really want to do a show with Roseanne Barr? No, they want a thin blonde girl.

But she’s funny.

She’s just funnier than everybody. I’m not even sure they wanted to do a Seinfeld show, but he’s just funnier than everybody.

He’s not a matinee idol. He’s Jewish, nerdy. And recently he said publicly he was somewhere on the autism spectrum as a comedian.

He bores easily. I bore easily. Not because I’m on some spectrum, but because I hear so many conversations again and again. So many people come up to you, and not enough people try to take into account what you’ve heard already.

Let’s put it this way. Take Anchorman. Now switch the directors of Anchorman and Gone Girl and give them their movies to do. Adam McKay’s going to get closer to Gone Girl than Fincher is going to get to Anchorman.

Absolutely.

It’s not even close.

Okay, but Woody Allen—

I don’t even think Woody does comedy. I think he does dramas with jokes. They’re all sad at their core.

It’s pretty clear, in my opinion, Shirobako (and majority of TV anime) are dramas. Sure, they have jokes and can be funny, but that don’t make a comedy by itself. It’s the Teekyuus and Azazels of the world that are comedy, when I (and others) lament that nobody blogs about comedy. Because it’s friggin hard to write about comedy. It’s friggin hard to make a good comedy, let alone doing this whole Japanese cartoon dance across the Pacific (and Atlantic in some cases).

Which comes back to Shirobako. The director of the show, Tsutomu Mizushima, is known for comedy. His auteur voice honed in Crayon Shin-chan, which is pretty much the home of modern children comedy cartoon in Japan. Long story short, Mizushima brought his comedic touch to the humorous moments of Shirobako. And Chris Rock says as much. [Some formatting removed, Bold for interviewer.]

I would love to be a 60 Minutes correspondent.

What would you want to cover?

I would cover anything. I mean, I’d be in Ferguson right now, and it would be in-depth, and it would be funny.

It’s hard to do funny in journalism.

No, it’s not. It’s all in the cut.

What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?

I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.

Shirobako’s dramatization aside, isn’t it just presenting to us the everyday realities of the anime production desk? Since the 90s there has been a lot of otaku-oriented stories with otaku and people we desire within; but this one is about industry folks, not you and me. It’s not to say racism in America parallels the moe cancer, but the way we tell either story follows the same principles behind telling stories. I can see why someone can think Shirobako is a comedy. It’s in the cut. And Mizushima cuts it a certain way that brings a certain levity. But it is not, say, the Office. Or Wagnaria. I feel that Shirobako can seem light because we are cutting pretty close to the bone and to home; it’s also part of the dramatization package to protect both the show and the people it talks about. Most of all, the humor helps to make a dry topic fun to watch.

I don’t fault Mike (who is a swell guy AFAIK) for dropping the most cromulent, triggering portmanteau (for me) in a random internet comment sort of thing, but that’s just misleading TV gossip language and it makes me sad. Which is to say a lot of people out there probably don’t even know good comedy if it punched them in the face, because they don’t even have the life experiences, the current events, all that current-events wherewithal that Chris Rock referenced, to really get it good. Nothing wrong with that; we all have to start somewhere. So let’s. And in my opinion the first step is to get out of that consumer-oriented mind set, that overly database-minded idea that comedy is just yet another flavor like slice of life or sports, a row in a table. It’s a wholly different animal.

But really, the language, the level of discourse on comedy, on the anime social network stuffs, is so rudimentary that if something stood out it’s not even recognizable. Do we ever get beyond timing and puns?

PS. Wikipedia on dramedy is redirected to comedy drama. If you read the talk pages, dramedy basically gets laughed out into tragicomedy, which is really more than what anyone needs to know.