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Your Name, Shinkai’s Portfolio

This is really a defense of the movie, from who I don’t know, people who hate blockbusters? But reading it reminds me that I’ve been following this Shinkai Makoto guy since his groundbreaking movie about SMS, mainly because Tenmon’s soundtrack up to Beyond the Clouds were sublime. (By the way he’s writing music for Tsuredure Children this season.) Shinkai’s movies were actually no different than how they are today, from little clips like his NHK-funded cat anime, or the movie about showing your feet while eating chocolate and drinking beer beneath a raining Tokyo sky? I’m just saying.

To me, as a fan of his works, Shinkai has peaked at 5cm. The reasons are twofold. First of all, as I mentioned, many of his works, and certainly all of his major works, are iteratives of the same ideas as expressed in the narrative. Sometimes the themes are even the same. Your Name, especially now that I’ve slowly and watched it at home (thanks Amazon Japan) for the…5th time? Is like someone took 5cm and made it into a crowd pleaser, necessarily by making the work acceptable to a wider audience. This means it’s not a 3-vignette series of films, but a full films in three clear acts. It means spelling things out–by acting it via the characters and other means that are less usual in his films. It means a clear and satisfactory end for all tha shippers. It also mean the experience is now about being carry forward by attention-grabbing edits and lense flares, jokes about sex or romance, plus that whole comet thing. It’s not so much about what makes 5cm such a poignant work–Your Name was a bit diluted, if you will.

The second reason is just that, by fleshing out his ideas, and pivoting around a mainstream-sensible notion of star-crossing, time-spanning, body-swapping hook-and-sinker, Your Name is Shinkai’s most challenging movie to date. It is like trying to execute on the perfect chocolate ice cream. Or maybe in this case it’s more like Stracciatella gelato where you have to keep Shinkai’s distinctive and signature visual cues and awesome display of art and still produce a very solid and familiar, tasty and digestible familiarity. However as a director of that, his flaws are now showing, where as they were previously less obvious in his more experimental works.

There are a lot of incremental improvements between Your Name and his prior works, so the Sakugablog post I linked up there is a good sampler of that. And it’s true, without experimentation of these new techniques people are not going to get better at doing it. That alone makes Your Name a curiously welcome item, and I don’t get why anyone would hate its success, however unwarranted it may be. I think it’s just something you deal with–commercial success is not at all related to how well the craft it is, although craft itself may be a prereq or a limiter. It’s true for Hollywood, it’s true for the rest of the world; if anything too many bad movies make too much money.

But the point I want to make, which I chose the word “peaked” deliberately, is that I don’t think he can make another movie that will resonate with me as much as 5cm. He has spent much of his adult life creating art around these core set of concepts and I think he has still some tricks up in his sleeves, plus room to improve, as an animation creator. But as an artist with a message I don’t think he came louder and less of a diluted message than those three short stories. Which is to say, maybe it’s time Shinkai go make that new movie that he ought to make next, and not the same thing?

I think you can easily counter-argue and say that Your Name is Shinkai’s best film yet because it required him to be a more well-rounded creator, relying on more people in his team to lift the overall movie, to address his earlier inadequacies, and make something that isn’t especially weak in any one area. Unfortunately, those are not the things that made me a fan of his films.

PS. I’ve been reading the Chinese SF trilogy from Liu Cixin, The Three Body Problem, and it is quite a read. Like Shinkai, Liu also professes that he is a fan of the stuff that he is now contributing to. And it shows; both of their works are works as two people who are huge fans of their respective medium and genre. In Liu’s case he literally name dropped Asimov and Legend of Galactic Heroes in the first book. It’s funny, because when I read that reference I thought back not only to my recent viewing experience, but that the last time I saw Shinkai at a con panel he mentioned that he was slowly working through the same OVAs.

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:  My 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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