Year In Review 2017: Twelve Twelves

Anime industry exists because it’s a miracle.

I’ve been really busy this month, despite the lack of events. But here it goes–trying to scramble something together to introspect a year’s worth of content consumption. Introspection is worthwhile, and a tradition of doing it is a good idea. I don’t know how much of it is entertaining or informative for someone not me, though. Still, here goes.

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Eventing 2017

[Last year’s event log here. Last update December 27]

This is a blog post that will keep track of the nerd events I’m attending in 2017. It will be updated over time to add/delete and update the status of the events I plan to attend or have attended. If you’re going to one of these, feel free to let me know ahead of time.

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All You Need are Friends, Craft Beers, and Board Games

It also helps a lot if you have a nice twitter account.

As 2017 wraps up, we are 20 years into a world where late-night, paid-for anime of Japan started to be a thing. What does it mean? Well, it means this type of otaku are now older and many are starting to move on to other stuff as they move on to new stages in life. In the next few years we should see more signs of the generational changing-of-guards that has already happened once since last decade. The churn of hits, may it be anime, game, manga, memes, seiyuu, songs, live events, or whatever else that gets peddled onto our collective consciousness, will trudge on. You and I, on the other hand, can take it or leave it.

That light-novel-turned-anime Imouto sae ga iire ba (A Sister’s All You Need) is the story of someone who is taking it. And when we do it, we do it our way–surrounded by friends who appreciate who you are, nice alcoholic drinks, and social gaming (board games in this case). This is actually a pretty common way to have a good time among my friends, and I imagine it is a common way to have fun across the board among young adults old enough to have money to spend, in the developed world.

The fact that Imotosae taps into the creature comforts of those who are employed (and the money you can buy) to me is already a huge boon, in that it doesn’t just name drop random craft beers or board games, but portrays the characters whose lives in which those luxuries make sense to be a part of. It’s a bit of an adult thing when it talks about taxes, and/or how you can maximize your deductions in various ways, as much as it discusses how common relationship hookups could happen, just like how it’s an adult thing to bring back craft beer souvenirs.

Anime isn’t for kids, right? Legal drinking age is 20 in japan!

Imoutosae is also over-the-top in terms of the comedy it tries to deliver, because let’s face it, that’s not why we watch anime usually. I think it makes a lot of sense to consider the effects of, say, naked Kanikou wrestling to get her point across to an equally naked Myaa or Kaiko, with what we’ve seen in Eromanga Sensei. In both the purposes seem to be similar, but the point of one is about this imouto freak who writes light novels and the other is about an actual little sister who have these hardcore characteristics.

Truth is however, that this wave of otaku is growing up, and what struck a chord with them will get pivoted to fit better with an older audience. It’s the shift in paradigm where the IP ages, but also changes. No longer we play games on carts, but we download patches and content patches over time as these games grow older with us, to use a video game analogy. It’s table stakes to have cute, adorable characters; to win you have to ante up something. In this case we have a story about a bunch of young adults, which is a lot more affecting than a story about a bunch of goofy but loveable teenagers.

Which is to say, what about Kani Nayuta? She’s a bridge between two realities.

For better or for worse, Imouto Sae will turn around and focus on the little sister in the show, so we’ll see how that rides out. I’m not hoping for much. It’s to the extent in which I don’t want to sell this show to anyone really, despite my enthusiasm for the show, and the ability to point to why I like it fairly clearly.

Another way I enjoy Imoutosae has been that it doesn’t really give a damn about the fictional aspect of itself. It allows some outrageous takes (Chihiro’s ass being one). But watching that Once Upon a Time play-through this past week really put a spotlight in terms of the silly things it comes up with. On some simple level, what goes into a light novel can be the replays some writers put together during their D&D sessions. That isn’t so different than Itsuki’s episode-1 pitch where the character’s sister served her (breast?)milk for breakfast.  In that sense, where and how do you have a discourse in which that kind of thinking serves as a baseline?

Or that for Myaa’s brithday, Kanikou wrote her a short novel which materialized her fantasy via Kanikou’s vivid imagination? I think this is the kind of plot device that just doesn’t happen in this genre format–closest thing I see it ever would be like, say, AnoHana the movie (but they made a fireworks thing?) or Whisper of the Heart (but that piece treats art in a more generic way). It’s quite something if you think about it.

Which is all to say, in order to sell some Blu-rays, Bandai Visual will uncensor the audio track, which is the most delightful meta take ever. In a season with Anime-Gataris I’m glad the current meta has well-outpaced its commercial variant, even in the commercial implementation. The whole existence of Imoutosae is about the delivery of the things I care about, and others like me. So far it has not erred.

The Hardest Things to Animate, Fall 2017

Are cute girls cooking.

Before my mental gear switches into “all retrospectives, all the time” for the rest of the month, let me just talk about this season’s slate and other related things. As a bonus for each episode I will give it two ranks, how much I want to watch the episode as it airs, followed by how often I do end up watching the episode as soon as a new one is available. For both values, 1 is the highest/soonest and 5 is the lowest/slowest. The goal is to give a numerical representation on how competing time and interest factor in how I view these shows. Some week/weekends I’m out all day and have to prioritize my down time, you know!

THE IDOLM@STER SideM – When I returned from Japan after attending IDOLM@STER 10th anniversary event, I felt that the franchise has become a “home” where my “heart” returns to. SideM’s Jupiter-focused episodes are a great summary of this concept, this past week and from the start. In some ways this show is exceedingly watchable for a male-idol franchise, for a more general audience. Watchability rating: 1, 2 – Because I want to be in a good state of mind when I watch it, so I don’t always do so ASAP.

Wake Up Girls Shinso – The franchise reboot without Yamakan now gains Yamakan as the most annoying cheerleader. I think the series does feel different without his involvement, and it unfortunately suffers from some severe production issues. The focus on MayuC is okay, as with the introduction of RGR (Ranga…neo ranga…) and looping in the large I-1 cast and all the spinoffs. It’s still WUG and it’s still something channeling the ideas presented from the original, but more tightly written because it doesn’t have to couch itself with depicting a post-311 Tohoku. As a fan I have a lot to say about this show but nothing is really important? LOL.Watchability rating: 2, 2 – Too many live action episodes that don’t get streamed on CR, because of production issues, throws off my timing on these.

Imouto Sae ga Iire ba – I know it’s written by the Haganai guy, and I found Haganai generally disturbing and at times offensive. ImoutoSae is like the same pivot the Oreimo guy did to bring us Eromanga Sensei, and I am really enjoying it. It feels like instead of debating politics of shooting people and blowing up things, it’s much more interesting to debate video games where players shoot people and blow up things, as an analogy? This is the meta level take on an already really meta thing, which is “that database” I occasionally refer to. It deserves its own post later. Watchability rating: 1, 1 – My favorite this season.

Kino’s Journey is good for just being something very easy to watch, can’t say the content is good or bad…probably because it’s a mixed bag. Watchability rating: 3, 2 – Easy to watch does mean I end up watching it sooner rather than later.

Food Wars is always a delight, a modern shonen battle story. Not much to say besides this new turn of event is kind of meh.Watchability rating: 2, 1 – Not top of my list but such a page turner, plus I can watch this with company.

Netjuu no Susume is a ton of fun in a good J-drama kind of way. I call it the soul food anime this season.Watchability rating: 2, 1 – What happens next? LOL.

Just Because is good on a technical level, but a little hard to watch. It’s great once you can get into it though, and I like how it manages around the typical pitfalls of adolescent romances. And that animation…Watchability rating: 2, 2.

12 Taisen is a fun, filtered Nisioisin thing. The upside is people die, the downside is that it becomes a guessing game, and not a story? The high production value makes it not that annoying, with somewhat a toned down Nisioisin-ness? Watchability rating: 3,2 – I kind of dread watching it, but once I start it goes down easy.

Blend-S fanservice is top notch, but I hope they lean into that shipping stuff which made Working compelling. It’s doing it so very slowly… Watchability rating: 2,1- Mostly compelled due to social networks.

Girls’ Last Tour – I picked up this show from SNS word of mouth. I am slightly biased against this seiyuu cast, but the story is a little compelling and it’s a good show to relax to. Also, I’m not up to date on it, LOL. Watchability rating: 3,5 – 5 because I’m behind by like a month plus.

Urahara – Another show high on concept and I like it for that, but execution is lacking–not in the way you think. It’s just the fully lack of tension makes it a little hard to follow. And it isn’t because nothing drastic happens in this show…well, maybe nothing is really that drastic. Like when aliens invade earth in Kekkai Sensen versus when aliens invade earth in a Barbie movie? I don’t know. Watchability rating: 3,4 – I’m a little behind.

Kekkai Sensen – It’s going into “same o same o” territory which means it’s great for fans but so so for everyone else. Still fun animation, as TV anime go. Watchability rating: 3,3 – I just don’t feel the compulsion to watch this, and at the same time you can pick up or drop this series at any time in any fashion, it’s so easy to get in and out.

Magus’s Bride – Sleigh Beggy? More like Slight Boring. When people hyped this up in the early goings of this season I was interested. Now I’m just letting out some giant yawns. It’s not even a let down, I expected this too self-important of a show to miss the mark, if the 3-episode OVAs are any indication of the story. So far it hasn’t really deviated much, if anything, it was better when the story came and went without all this magic-setting pretension. Maybe the manga is better. Maybe people should have just not hyped this show. Watchability rating: 2,2 – For healing type anime it works pretty okay, a little more upbeat than your usual variety.

Konohana Kitan – I like it but more for seiyuu and for cute being cute, otherwise this story of otherworldly hotspring hotel run by foxgirls is sort of just okay. Tho if it can produce episodes like episode 8, consistently, it would get promoted. Watchability rating: 2,2 – Maybe 1.5, 1.5 rather?

Houseki no Kuni would be higher tier if not for the most uzai Kurosawa Tomoyo ever. This is one of those cases where while I appreciate the acting, having pre-animation dubs removed some limits on how annoying she is. Also the story is just kind of silly even half way through? Like, yeah I know Phos is different later I still cannot take this show seriously. It’s not even a matter of the visual language (eg., oh noes she’s gonna go Kizuna Ai on us), but just the attempt at tonal shifts in the show is not something I can take seriously. Watchability rating: 2,3 – I end up getting to this later because it’s not on CR so I have to pirate it the old fashion way, sigh.

Anime-gatarisBig bang theory the anime. It’s full of really peak jokes, so just for those I can say I am glad Anime-gataris exists. But it’s got a taste of what I remember from the late 90s when Japan makes anime with a western audience in mind. Now it’s China, I guess. Watchability rating: 3, 2 – I end up watching it because it’s on CR and I tend to have more free time on Sundays, after all.

Two-car is by no means bad, but yeah who would watch this show? Other than me? Or yuri fanatics? Or people actually into the sport? It could be more of a comedy I think, and that would really make this show ring. As is, it’s got a mandatory low-conflict tension every episode and I’m not sure if anyone should care. It’s kind of an elaborate exposé, maybe. Watchability rating: 4, 4 – It’s not bad, just hard.

Ousama Game: LOL what is this trash. I guess it’s fun but it sits at the bottom of the “I have no time to watch anime” ladder of shows to cut. Watchability rating: 3, 5 – I’m a month behind I think.

Fate Apocrypha – A bigger yawn than slight yawn. To be fair I’m only halfway through and haven’t watched any in a couple months. Watchability rating: 3, 5 – This is an Anime Strike show, and you know how that is.

Mahoujin Guruguru – I’m still like, just 1/3 of the way into the series. Probably because I want to marathon this and have not had the time. Watchability rating: 2, 5.

Some other random stuff this season:

Pri Pri Chi-chan still delivers. The Rietion anime is really fun and even not totally stupid always, just sometimes. I don’t think I would watch this show not for seiyuu purposes, but I can see myself doing so if it’s something I end up watching on regular TV for some reason. Watchability rating: 1,3. – It’s short.

Cingeki S2 is fun. More of the same from the first set of episodes but I like how it gets awfully meta. Watchability rating: 1,1. – It’s super short.

Osomatsu-san S2 – When I saw that first episode I knew it was time to call it quits, and the subsequent episodes played out my expectations. You can’t go over the top the same way twice. Open to coming back to this show if it gets better though… No rating for shows I’m dropping.

Welcome to the Ballroom – It’s a good show but I think I’m going to drop it, despite the delicious interaction between the dancers. I’m not opposed to catching up but I don’t like this particular angle they’re going with in terms of the sports and character development. No rating for shows I am dropping.

I watched that Blade Runner anime. I would not dissuade anyone from watching it but it’s just okay. No rating for movies and one-shots.

Man I wanted to watch Heaven’s Feel but missed the local show dates. It’s still going to be in theaters when I go to Japan though, so lol. I guess the new Garupan movie series will start this month as well, so that’s something to look forward to. No rating for movies and one-shots.

I finally got to watch Genocidal Organ, despite missing it earlier this year (twice?). It looked good. It is a bit neutered compared to the book, not for graphic violence but for the implication it makes at the end. Also, the effect of the plot device doesn’t really come across to me that well, which is unfortunate. Otherwise it’s a solid action vehicle for animation? For all the fun we make of the verbose expositions you see in Type-Moon works, sometimes that is exactly what’s good about the thing and it’s nice to have a heavy dose of it as long as it doesn’t ruin the film. No rating for movies and one-shots.

Net Neutrality’s Impact on American Anime Streamers, 2017 Edition

Reading softcore political propaganda in the morning is a good chuckle I suppose. I think with a lot of internet stuff, either the FCC recent moves or even the copyright issues detailed here are really difficult, nuanced policy discussions that have no good or right answers, and whatever decision that becomes law have ramifications that can be hard to fathom down the road, if we even assume the future play by the same rules we play by today. But as they say on Capitol Hill, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. It’s also pretty hard to work that internet mob mentality if you want to be careful and nuanced. It’s not like the issues of punching a Nazi, let’s just say.

The reality of the situation is, with a privatization of the internet, net neutrality is more a practical reality than an ideal that needs to be enshrined. Ultimately packets will go from A to B to C, because someone requested it and someone else made it available. The question is more of, what is a fair allocation of packets and bandwidth. In my mind, too often, the net neutrality debate is wrapped up by “free beer” kind of things than “free speech” as a result, to co-op a common analogy when it comes to these things. People’s desires conflate with what is actually fair, creating incentives to promote certain results that are actually not “net neutral.” FCC’s deregulation, as a result, may not be as bad as the worst case scenario as some people paint it as, and we might end up going there anyway with or without regulation.

The best example I can give is zero-rating. This is the now-popular practice where an ISP can provide a pay-per-bucket plan to an end user, but discount certain types of traffic from the bucket. This is technically not net-neutral; certain traffic are privileged because of business or whatever reasons–namely just so the consumer get a better value from the ISP since often these privileged services are very popular or are incumbent market leaders. In some cases this is a way to beat their path into a new market, the most ambitious example is Facebook serving free internet to India, which was blocked by the country because it would destroy net neutrality in that country. But isn’t free internet (and free smartphones to go with) good for consumers? Especially for a developing country like India, where people just don’t have money for that kind of thing. Anyways, that’s not important for American anime viewers, who are generally not poor by global standards.

The real way to look at this is to understand what internet is for. If you spend all day consuming media using your internet, well, you are definitely not alone. But this is not the real cause or case for Net Neutrality. The scare tactics about graphics of paying for each service from your network to have them enabled is already something adult Americans have to deal with in the past decades: that’s how cable and cable packages are sold. So what is cable/satellite TV anyway? It’s basically data pipes with services on top, where the services can be phone, television (on demand, linear, PPV, porn, whatever), or internet service. When someone “cuts the cord” you’re basically getting television services from 3rd parties that are not your cable or satellite provider, and it uses your internet instead of the dedicated pipe between your cable box and the cable company hosting and serving the content.

Which is just to say, the $10 or whatever one pays Netflix is just another way of paying the $30 or so one pays to, say, Comcast or whatever Time Warner is called today. It’s decoupling the platform and the services that lives on it. It’s stuff anime fans already have to do if the shows they want to watch is on Hi-Dive, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and CR. You’re gonna have to pay for all 4 to get all the available streaming anime this season (ok maybe not Netflix but you know what I mean).

What net neutrality’s worse case scenario is that some ISP X, for example, will offer you free Netflix and pay for its annual subscription fees, over all the other ISPs. If that sounds good to you, it’s already happening. It’s actually a net good for anime industry in this case. An anime fan might now be able to afford to pay for an additional streaming service she couldn’t before, or watch some anime on Netflix because it wasn’t streaming the season before KEK. Anyways, this is a good outcome at the expense of net neutrality. And in some ways, this is not what the fight against Pai and the FCC is about, that’s about Title II regulation of internet service providers.

The real problem with American internet service providers is outlined here. Cable companies are how most Americans get internet today, and they are regional monopolies. There is no effective competition, and if there are, it’s very token and often it’s shut down by law (RIP municipal internets). These ISPs often are money grabbing POS with bad customer service and terrible pricing. They have survived as some of the most hated entities in America because of the monopolies they have over us. We have no real choice for broadband internet that is affordable.

The break away for cord cutters is one way to cut into regional cable providers’ gravy train. Instead of $100 or whatever a month one pays for CATV, we can get a suitable alternative via Amazon or Netflix or a new crop of service providers, with only half as much of the money (or less) going to the CATV companies. There’s even internet-based linear TV via DirecTV (which, while terrible on its own, has been an eternal competitor to CATV) and a growing list of services. Even Google is in this game. This is the real posture between cord cutters and their cable TV overlords. It’s a fight to regulate a terrible situation made worse by unstoppable incumbents, and millions of lobby bucks and rotating door policies for people getting plush jobs once they exit from politics.

Net neutrality comes into play because the media market has been consolidating between content providers and service providers. With Comcast-NBC in the rear view mirror and ATT-TW in the distance, I’m not sure what there is to do for poor sods in America who will be paying more than ever for internet services and content services. The principles of net neutrality can help the people fight this fight, by pushing internet services companies into legal utilities. That said, the FCC, even before Pai and the Trump administration, is weak and ineffective at doing this. I think deregulation from the FCC is not going to make a huge difference in the long run, although it does deprive us one set of tools in fighting these terrible monopolies.

On the flip side, a strong FCC with enough legislative backing can really help us in this fight. I just don’t think it’s going to happen under this administration.

Let me continue the same topic with a very different take: Bottom line bucks. This is the slate at the start of 2017 from PC Mag, which I kind of agree with. We’re looking at one service and the boradband to use it, so that’ll run anywhere between $7-16 with Anime Strike in the mix. It’s on top of the average broadband price in the US, which is something like $80 according to this article. If you can live with Netflix and forego the rest, that’s a sizable saving, so you can see how zero rating can make a huge difference, even if it’s for a different kind of network service.

With the Net Neutrality scare scenario, the ISP overlords of America wants to provide a similar level of service at a lower price, with the caveat that some services are not available unless we pay extra, that is essentially “cable-fying” the internet. But if the services can compete with each other, that is generally going to be a good deal for anime fans because we would have the option to have more extreme a al carte options and shed additional costs mainstream customers can’t. Of course, that will depend on your own preferences. But we at least have competition of a perverse sort between the various streaming services, which is more competition than the old days.

It’s easy to see why Amazon decided to make Anime Strike an addon subscription–it’s like old on-demand anime for CATV customers, where you can pay a monthly added fee and get some anime on your one-stop-shop that is Amazon Prime. Too bad it alienates everybody else not in their ecosystem, albeit that is a shrinking number by the minute. If the scare scenario is that we have to pay extra for content we care about because it’s niche or an upstart, it’s already happening with Amazon video, or any other addons in which they want to extract that extra tax, may it be from the platform or service level.

So, then, we need to ask: what does net neutrality add to this? Is there any guarantee that we will get better services at a lower price if we regulate the ISPs like utilities? I actually don’t know. But I do know zero rating as a competitive means can lower prices, as pioneered from bucketed cellular service (which, compared to cable/broadband, is quite competitive in the US). I know that nerfing net neutrality brings the platforms and service providers together, giving ISPs more leverage to extract that tax. This is generally not a good thing for today’s service providers, because it opens the door for more hijinks with the dumb pipes trying to extract some value from the transaction stream. However, it’s far from clear how that will play out, and who would be the losers (well, all of us probably, unless you own the right stocks) in that game.

To sum, the irony is that net neutrality is not the best deal for anime fans. For people who use the internet for things most people don’t use the internet for, net neutrality is definitely way more important…and even so, something 99%+ of us can live without. Because the moment it stops working, well, it stops working. Until then, it’s a matter of how much money we are paying and what services we are getting out of our monopolistic dumb pipes. Just look at what Netflix did in their 180. It’s not even a matter of money making for incumbent services, it’s a matter of regulating an industry sector in a way that is fair to the public and cost effective to the consumers.