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Otakon 2017: Wrap

This year marks the 20th consecutive time I attended Otakon. Maybe that’s deserving of something, but probably no more than just this mention here. It’s probably better noted that it marked the start and end of an era where Otakon existed as a thing in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, as Otakon ’98 actually was at Hyatt Crystal City in Arlington, VA, and now Otakon is at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.

Guest-wise, the main thing about Otakon this year is Anisong World Matsuri. Like Anime Expo, this was my main reason for going. Otakon’s AWM featured Yousei Teikoku, Flow, TM Revolution and JAM Project. Otakon itself brought over a bunch of guests, mostly regulars like Maruyama and Matsubara, Aoki Ei, and probably most notedly the lead seiyuu in Welcome to the Ballroom, Tsuchiya Shinba, plus your usual producer types. There were some movie premieres, like the new Eureka 7 Movie. Actually was that it? There was a promo for This Corner and the new Gundam movie I guess?

Anyways, it was a good time to take it easy, as we have to also deal with the new con center, setup, new places to eat, new hotel, new routine, everything. So my scattered thoughts below…

(Too lazy to crop photos sorry)

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Anirevo Summer 2017: Wrap

I’m trying to rapidly wrap up this post only because I have to prep for Otakon? LOL. Turned out I had a lot to say about my first trip to Vancouver. Vancouver is the other part of Canada that’s worth visiting, I guess? The west coast bastion of … Chinese immigration in North America? Well, one thing that is for sure is that culturally it is very asian, and very diverse. Lots of different East Asians and Asians in general, too. It feels like New York City in the sense of its cultural and racial diversity, except it leans very heavily towards Asia, where as NYC is leaning towards Latin America, Africa and Europe a lot more by comparison.

The story goes there used to be a large anime con in Vancouver but it went under due to some con drama or fraud or something. It went away and AniRevo is the survivor in the subsequent con shakeups in the region after various smaller cons gave it the good old try. Now AniRevo runs twice a year, with the Winter version focused more on gaming and the Summer version focused more on anime and Japanese content.

A couple years ago I tried to go, but couldn’t pull the trigger. Since then it’s been aping me for all this time so I jumped on it when Itou Shizuka got announced several months ago. That’s a no-brainer guest–she is one of the pillars of seiyuu otaku scene in the last major meta, to borrow some card game lingo here. Bucket list, even. I was thinking that I would be glad just to be able to see her at a panel or get a thing or two signed, while doing some culinary tourism in Vancouver.

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Eventing Do’s and Do Not’s

Since I sort of just tossed up my thoughts there, some people might want an easier-to-digest version.

  • Do what you like.
    • The problem is some people like to do things that are stupid/dumb and are context insensitive. So for those people, no, don’t do what you like if it’s those dumb things.
    • There are things that are common sense. It’s a vague and grey area so I’ll leave it at that.
      • But know that it can be a grey area, so have some grace/mercy when dealing with such.
    • Try to not be KY. We are KY I know but do your best.
    • …and some of you are just trolling, so welp.
    • Unfortunately this also determines if you are yakkai or not. Honestly? It doesn’t matter, from a western point of view.
  • Learn about the time/context/place of the thing you are at, and the things you want to do.
    • Wotagei is a type of nerd dance style and is generally inappropriate at a public venue, outside of chika idol shows, anikura, etc.
    • For anime/2D idol/anison fests, calls are appropriate usually, and even if you don’t want to do them, sometimes you should at least learn about them and do them for show at critical junctures?
    • Learn about the acts and the show you are at, if you can. Why are you there, anyway? Festival events are different than solo lives for this reason, usually.
      • Go prepared. Learn ahead of time. Watch some live footage. Read concert reports. Get an idea of calls if not learn them outright.
      • Send flowers, bring gifts, make call books, whatever. But these are bonus round items, don’t get your undies in a wad if these things don’t work out.
        • Definitely don’t make trouble if they don’t. Instead, think positively as a fan, what would you do to make the best of it?
      • Meet other fans! Socialize!
      • Don’t get hung up by penlights or stuff that are secondary to your enjoyment of the show.
      • If you learn what you should do, you can also avoid what you shouldn’t do. And maybe, just maybe, you can get more enjoyment out of these events.
  • Don’t cause trouble, especially if you are a foreigner in a foreign land, but when you invariably do so, just play dumb and be yourself :)
    • To paraphrase a good teacher, if we are to enjoy these gifts that are the reasons in which we attend events, the best way to get along is with love, respect and charity.
  • It’s okay to [insert any Frequently Asked thing here]. Just don’t do it when you know it’ll cause problems. If you don’t know, it’s better err on the safe side. Or you could always ask some people who are also going to the same event, or the management if necessary.
  • Bonus: Don’t get hung up on jizos or house tigers. It’s a waste of your time, it’s a waste of my time. People have the right to enjoy themselves by doing nothing (or even sitting down at a seated venue), or by having a good time “moving” (assuming it adheres to the rules). Yes, there’s a fear that young people or people who don’t know any better may get the wrong idea, but this fear will never end if you let it control you from having a good time. Yeah, there will be people who go too far and need to be disciplined, removed, what have you, but don’t let that get in the way of your fellowship.
    • But it does make good whine material and troll bait.
    • As Tadokoro Azusa said, “So what?”
  • Extra Credit: Go to different live events, learn what it is in different countries, for mainstream and indie bands, for EDM, metal, pop, rock, country, classical, opera, whatever. Widen your perspective. Go to a Hanshin Tigers game and watch real cheering.

Million Live: Tiered Days

When I got into western anime fandom (in the 1990s) I did top 10 lists for fun. It’s a framework that allowed people to think about things in relative to each other, along a dimension so to speak. It can be a complicated thing or a simple thing, or things, or whatever that floated the boats of individual opinions. It’s a habit only enforced by today’s media landscape that desire click-through understanding, not some serious business digression.

So here’s a serious business digression: ┬áMy own tiered ranking of the idol characters of Million Live.

Disclaimer, though, this is not a producer ranking. I do take that aspect into account when compiling this, but let’s just say while I do put Matsuri at top out of obligation, it is not out of obligation to say that she is also my favorite, and vice versa. And while it would be nice to say that it’s a coincidence, one does not cause the other. There is a distinction between “producing” an idol and calling her/him your favorite. Until western fandom understands this (within IDOLM@STER at least) there is no way we are really deserving of anything good.

It’s very much a snapshot of my mind, and if you ask me again tomorrow I might disagree with my past self. I did sleep on it and tried to keep it sensible but it isn’t written in stone or anything like that. It’s probably safe to say that there is a half-life of sorts, that things will definitely deviate the further into the future we go…

Last but possibly the most important thing before I begin… I’m strictly speaking, when it comes to Million Live, a MD with a favorite. This means, in reality, I like all Million Live idols. This is important to keep in mind. They are all god tier. I’ll explain the distinction individually below. [See this GamiP interview to know what I mean about being MD with an oshi in regards to being a P.]

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Theater Dayz

So much to unpack. But let this be the prelude and I’ll just build on it.

The rhythm game IDOLM@STER Million Live: Theater Days, launched the night I was packing for Anime Expo (day -1). I put in a fair amount of hours and money in the game since and we don’t really have a real event yet. The first “event” is actually just a period of time where activities in-game will yield more rewards, and you get a free 30-stam drink every day.

Since I can’t talk about how events affect this game, I can talk about the other stuff–which is rather noteworthy. To put it simply, this is the game we’ve been waiting for since Shiny Festa was first a thing. It takes the next step that Deresute didn’t quite take, which is to build out hakomas-style dance groups (fixed at 5 members), but also with audio mixing. Granted this is only available for one song, Brand New Theater, but we expect Thank You, Welcome, and Dreaming all will have this option available.

Watching and playing Brand New Theater in Theater Days (avoiding the Milishita nickname for now) is a trip. It is enough proximity of an experience to watching S4U modes in PS3. This is something that I can call authentically “IDOLM@STER” which has been now recreated in a new video game. On just this level, Theater Days is a success in my book…at least comparable to Shiny Festa.

The main interface of Theater Days is full 3D with characters moving about the screen like…ships passing in the night? They just glide to and from designated points in each “room” and other than a few pre-scripted things, they are just kind of there. I guess this is the limitation of randomly-generated character events than carefully-scripted ones you find in the in-game menus of Platinum Star or BanG Dream. I’m nonetheless grateful that at least on an individual basis, the idols that appear in the rooms, lobby, hallways, or whatever, do the things we want to see them do.

Unlike Deresute, I’ve been playing Theater Days with 3D as much as possible. The 2D mode is pretty lame, but it does what you need it to do–which is nothing but static background that you can’t even affect (outfits/SSR make no difference). Indeed, this game is meant to put the fact that IDOLM@STER the Video Game Franchise is about 3D-rendered idols dancing and singing while you do things, front and center. The gameplay even forces a gameplay pause during the bridge of each song so you can watch the idols strut their stuff.

I feel this is the main charm of the game. And at the same time it’s something that the market has been kind of weaning off of. Most players these days are groomed to play them without these enhancements, in order to squeeze the battery life a bit longer. The hardware in the wild probably still has a ways to go to make the Theater Day vision 100% true, but we’re pretty close, if you have a modern phone (GS8, iPhone 7).

The rest of the game is very much similar to Deresute. The team composition, leveling, training, awakening, and limit breaking all play more or less like modern rhythm F2P games that now flood the market. I won’t belabor this and rhythm game aspects of Theater Days besides to say that flick notes sure are PITA. And probably the one most notable thing is that Theater Days have many quality-of-life upgrades over Deresute, such as removing inventory management all together, so you never have to deal with duplicate cards or putting cards into dorms or whatever. Not too important of a thing, but I appreciate it.

Of course, Theater Days is still in its early days, and it isn’t as feature rich as Deresute, although you can kind of see they plan to feature-match all the basic stuff down the road. It’s also kind of buggy on the edges, and talks to the server a lot. The core game works pretty well, so it’s not like BanG Dream which can still cold crash on my phone (happened just today in fact…).

And yeah, it’s invariable to compare Theater Days with Deresute, and so far it’s a helpful guide. There isn’t a room of SD stuff you can play with, but I think that’s intended (no such thing in ML card game). The gameplay adds a “shigoto” mode which in effect, lets you progress using stamina to get a random commu, rather than to play a song. Maybe it’s a QoL thing too, but commu with idols is also another hallmark of the franchise. It’s important and heartening to see this feature being put it to in the game explicitly, rather than just story that you unlock.

One last note in regards to the early days of Theater Days: the gacha. Unlike Cinderella Girls, you can reasonably “collect” all the Million Live characters off the bat. In fact, with 765Pro characters in the game and getting new voiced lines and scenarios, I really wanted to at least get those 13 first. It would just be like OFA! LOL. The harsh reality is that the initial gacha layout gives 26 R and 26 SR, splitting the full cast in half. Since there is no “friend point” gacha you cannot roll for Ns, as N cards drop only by completing songs and work, and at a “fairly low” rate (given that this is a compu gacha you’re aiming for). The characters whose only non-N cards are SRs are hard to get. Also since the SSR rate is at a blessedly 3% it meant that you had a higher odds of pulling a SSR than a specific SR. With the first new batch of limited SSR/SR, that ratio has changed a bit so you have 0.388% of pulling a SR (excluding the promoted SR) and 0.338% of pulling a specific SSR–almost the same IMO. But it’s hard to get all the Ns. As of this writing I have 48 Ns, 24 SRs, and 7 SSRs. I only was able to complete all the Rs.

So, let’s talk about the meta stuff.

I’m still struggling to incorporate Kaori and Tsumugi into my brain, on an emotional and intellectual level. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it; it took me over half a year to get into Million Live properly so I expect to get comfy with the two project 39 members by winter this year at the latest. I certainly don’t dislike them, but it would help to see them live in October, yeah?

There are some fanon forming and reforming around Kaori and Tsumugi, and it’s kind of a fun time seeing it happening as it goes. The game itself brings life to Million Live by introducing the characters to more people and to opportunist artists, so hey, not complaining about that.

One of the more subtle threads about the two new characters is how in effect, at least at this point, the less refined characterization necessarily meant they are caricatured to a degree, replacing existing ships or roles in well-established tropes or jokes. I think Fuuka is really feeling it. Hopefully this is just a temporary thing while Mugi and Kaori spread their wings to come into their own selves.

With SideM game also on display (prereg period ongoing now!) we get a glimpse of the hydra that is IDOLM@STER as a game franchise. LOS is clearly taking a different path than TD and SS. It’s sensible to see that the boy side take a different route than the girl side. And it makes me wonder if we’ll get another boy-idol spinoff…

What’s probably the most noteworthy is Taneda Risa and Tanaka Kotoha. Kotoha is plainly not in Theater Days, and this is a huge move relatively. This speaks to me that IDOLM@STER is done with seiyuu switching if the circumstances can help it, and this is an internal decision. If anything, we should infer all the more that Tanechan is coming back, and it is just a matter of time. Just like how SideM anime announcement confirms that Million Live anime will happen, and it is also just a matter of time…

I guess I can take heart that at least the management is committed to doing the right things, but it’s hard to see what’s good about it. Tanechan is not Kotoha. But if Tanechan is coming back, then we need to keep that seat warm for her… Maybe there is a temporary compromise somewhere that makes up the room for improvement. Namely, just put Kotoha in but keep her voiceless?

Please get well soon & come back Tanechan, we all miss you (and not even just in Million).