Category Archives: English Language Modern Visual Culture

Biblical View of Death Flags

This idea applies not only to anime but also pop media in general. I’m just sort of amused that a modern treatment of this old, old tl;dr is still relatively applicable. I hope you will take this at face value.

A little context: If you’re familiar of the story of Moses and his merry band of Israeli wanderers in the desert, this is the part where ol’ Mo gives them the how-to on war. As in, when the Israeli go to war, they ask themselves some important questions. NLT for flavor and ease of reading:

“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you! When you prepare for battle, the priest must come forward to speak to the troops. He will say to them, ‘Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!’

“Then the officers of the army must address the troops and say, ‘Has anyone here just built a new house but not yet dedicated it? If so, you may go home! You might be killed in the battle, and someone else would dedicate your house. Has anyone here just planted a vineyard but not yet eaten any of its fruit? If so, you may go home! You might die in battle, and someone else would eat the first fruit. Has anyone here just become engaged to a woman but not yet married her? Well, you may go home and get married! You might die in the battle, and someone else would marry her.’

“Then the officers will also say, ‘Is anyone here afraid or worried? If you are, you may go home before you frighten anyone else.’ When the officers have finished speaking to their troops, they will appoint the unit commanders.["]

See? Even back then they’d know to save your drama for your mama.


Random Thoughts: Cold-Call Stalker

I wasted a perfectly good Saturday wormed in front a couple Nico streams for ACE. It’s something I probably have never really done before, although I may have had in different variations over the years. I think one of the strongest thing NND has over Youtube is precisely this sort of live content programming, the sort of stuff that resembles more like sports programming than, say, some pre-produced thing someone uploaded to some video service. NND’s coverage of ACE is actually pretty good once you ignore the fact that half of the content happen in the wee hours of the day for EDT and some of the better stuff is either not streamed or geoblocked.

As much as I casually (or maybe beyond “casually,” I’m not objective enough to tell) follow these new-comer seiyuu scenes, these ACE streams mark the first time I’ve seen some of them live with any prolong period of time. I guess it’s kind of interesting seeing Kayano do her little Menma corner in that interesting getup. Interesting, because I don’t really have another word for it.

It was enjoyable to see Mizuhashi and Shintani pimp the new Hidamari Sketch TV show. Man, I remember Shintani when she was like, 18 years old. Time flies. Mizuhashi was interesting and pro. The Madoka stage was rather uneventful other than seeing your favorite seiyuu on stage. In my case it’s mostly just Nonaka. I really need to dig out more videos of her, she’s like tailor made for my weak points. And I guess that’s the thing: I just don’t spend the time to watch seiyuu videos and the like, so there’s a sense of wonder left when I subject myself to this sort of manufactured marketing drivel.

On the other hand, you kind of have to be all keyed in to that stuff to enjoy, say, the iM@S x YuruYuri x Milky Holmes variety show. I was pretty happy about NND broadcasting that one in their US portal. Also, you can tell iM@S team is just more together, having better chemistry and more experience. Not too surprising given that they’ve been around the longest and have done so much together, even including newcomer Asakura/Yukiho.

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Remember that seiyuu phone call app? Originally it started out with a list of A and B rank seiyuu and you have to pay to get the full “calls.” Now it’s flush with a bunch of C rank (I’m not sure why I’m using these letter grades but I hope it gives you the idea) seiyuu that are free. It’s kind of cool because it’s one way to find out about some interesting voices, like Chiyo Ousaki. Definitely a budding eroge queen!

Is this creepy? At first yeah, even for me. But as I go through the various selections it’s actually kind of fun. Fun in the sense that it’s like you get to hear someone new and check out what they sound like, how they act out a scenario–something I think that is fundamental about being a seiyuu person. This along with that card game where you can pick up seiyuu by voice provide an interesting way for new voice actors to get themselves out there and for seiyuu fans to pick up “relevant entertainment” cheaply. Win-win for marketing and consumers IMO.

Then again, you get people like this. Which is kind of neat but, well, LOL. Anyway, you can read about the list of newbies at Seiyuu+plus’s site.

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Anime Boston, PAX East, and Easter are all happening at the same time! As mentioned earlier I’ll be enjoying (hopefully) the first Momoi concert of my life and it is with slight trepidation that I look forward to how the Momoists handle it. On one hand I hope it’s a lot of fun when fans put so much effort and energy into it, but on the other hand I just want to see the crowd being the way they are–lackadaisical and KY–without getting too worked up by wotagei. As much as the calls are part of the whole thing, it feels kind of too stiff sometimes. But then again, con crowds are typically easy and it’s not like I go to the con for the crowd anyway!

And that brings us to the true topic: obviously, I go to Boston for some fresh and tasty oysters. I think if there’s a staple thing to have in Boston, that is it. All the other seafood-y things are a little bit overrated. I mean I can get a perfectly good lobster roll or a cup of chowder in Manhattan today, why even bother doing it when I’m just 4 hours up north?

I wonder if there’s any good oyster omelette place in Boston.

Itou Kanako, I’m looking forward to that show without any reservations. Thank God.

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Back to ACE, and this time, 4/1. I’m as impacted as anyone else about April Fools. I’m fine with people complaining about it, but I think OreImo season 2 announcement on 4/1 is well-played. When the marketing is this self-aware, I have problems with people faulting that. It’s like they just don’t get it. Well, nobody’s perfect I guess.


Sports And Modern Visual Culture

I am probably not considered a serious sports fan, and I am definitely not a sports anime fan. However I probably watch more sports than the average person who watch as much anime as I do, today. The usual things I interact with in this context are things like, I have to care about Linsaity. I have to try to score tickets when Chien-Ming Wang pitches in Citi Field later this year, or even just hoping Kuroda keeps his spot on the Yanks roster so I have a shot catching one of his games. I often tune in to SportsCenter. I have a few sports blogs that I follow. I also try to take the folks out to a day at the ballpark once a year, as I have done in a ritualistic, annual-tradition kind of way; this usually takes some divine intervention to line up everyone’s schedule in order to catch a game I really want to see.

And that is a common snapshot as to how sports is in America (at least in this part of America). I mean for people who grew up throwing pigskins, or running up and down the stadium (to your seat or to your position on the field), or from baseline to net, or arguing about being offside, or whatever that is you do, it’s in our DNA. Or at least for some of us. To me, I find this being the biggest gap between what passes for sports manga and anime and what passes for sports in America.

I know Japan produces their own cult and crowd and their top tier international athletes and teams. I have great interests in seeing Yu Darvish pitch this year (another possible game to catch). But when I watch Adachi’s Cross Game I feel nothing like this at all. Don’t take me wrong, I feel something–just something entirely different. Something that has nothing to do with sports.

And it’s not really anything of a surprise and I am saying nothing new. Sports is about us–each of us individually; it’s personal. For example, I follow and identify with Jeremy Lin not only because of my heritage, not only because he plays for the local team (and having to fight the crowd he draws on my daily commutes), and definitely not because every Chinese person I know, here and around the globe, seems to know who this scrubby ABC kid is. Well, all of that, and much more. It’s gotten to the point where I can see him being the embodiment of the spirit of people like him–Chinese American boys who grew up with those typical Asian-American, stereotyped environs, living the only way they know how. And often that is via them hoops and a smooth motion to the rim, picking apart the D from the perimeter and some timely field goals to keep them close. He is who I am, in a way.

[It's totally surreal talking to my folks about how Melo is a ball hog (this was a couple weeks ago). Or what they call him in China.]

When I crack open the pages of my favorite sports manga (Ookiku Furikabutte by the way) all I see is a bunch of adorable kids trying to play ball the best way they can, bringing with them who they are, the issues they face, the lives that they’re living. But that’s not me–that’s some Japanese high schoolers. Granted I can probably relate to that too, but that is one culture too many thousands of miles away from this one. Moreover, it has little to do with the way in which I associate with the sport of baseball. It’s hard to cheer for the not-home team; rather it’s much easier to cheer for a bunch of shipped crybabies, or an indomitable, can-do spirit. I can relate to the average Japanese high schooler more on what anime or game they enjoy than anything about sports, or the whole rigmarole of a Japanese sports club in a school setting, or even what drives them to excel in those sports beyond what defines human achievements universally. But it’s no fun when I have to resort to the lowest common denominator!

(In Oofuri, I also see an extreme amount of respect–perhaps only the Japanese is capable of this much respect–towards the sport itself. That is why it’s my favorite sports anime/manga/thing.)

And I think that remains the biggest reason, I am going to guess, why sports anime and sports manga will continue to fail in the US. It has nothing to do with how there are sports geeks (news flash: there are geeks in every category of everything, since time immortal). It has everything to do with the way we live and identify ourselves. (I also think this is why Slam Dunk is probably the most popular sports anime/manga franchise internationally, for good reasons.) As much as human beings can always empathize these widely appealing, dramatic postures in the greatest sports stories in anime and manga, I can appreciate them only as just a human being, not as a sports fanatic. In some way I think I relate to Space Bro’s reference to Zidane’s headbutt than anything from any other sports anime sports thing, ever.

I’ve only gave you my example, but different people identify with different sports and athletes differently, so you should ask them (or read about them in Tom’s well-linked list) to get some more examples. Everyone’s got his or her story; I’m just not sure how anime or manga fit in there (even if it can).


Sins of a Search Engine Empire, And a Story about Copywriting

I kind of like how Nisioisin names his books with his funny portmanteaus. “Ghostory” and the like, you know. The game “Sins of a Solar Empire” had a striking name, as it stuck with me, being a light fan of the 4X genre, so I was wondering if I could make it work in this blog post. I guess not.

I’m basically mourning the death of Google Reader Shared Item. I am basically mourning the disappearance of the records that birthed the best thing that anyone can quote and put on the DVD copy of Okami-san. Okami-san is a FUNimation license in North America. Okami-san is a story also called Ōkami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi. Like, about that untranslatable word about something or another anime/light novel nonsense, Okami-san is also known for her Endless Pleasure Sticks.

The concept “Endless Pleasure Sticks” is worth noting because it’s a set of words that resonates. Ever take a tuning fork (like an F) and just whack it around? It sounds good. Or rather, it sounds just like a note, nothing more (depending on what you whacked it on). That’s what it is like.  That’s why it’s worth calling it out. That’s why it makes a good, uh, measuring stick.

So the other day I got this in the mail. I was slightly surprised (and way more amused) to see a quote from the Nihon Review–a proper website with anime reviews and indexed and what not that–in my mail. I guess I confuse it with the “staff blog” sometimes, which is where all the interesting stuff happens. Upon some more reflection it occurred to me that whoever was working for RS on behalf of Funi is actually just going on the internet and looking up “good” sites with proper “hay we peddle reviews” criteria for quotes. Contrary to what I posted, NHRV isn’t really a “blog” per se. Still, seeing it got me thinking.

I mean, if I was the copywriter, I would totally put “Endless Pleasure Sticks” on the back of the thing. It would be the best quote any copywriter can put on a copy of Okami-san DVD. It would induced me to purchase it. I mean, doesn’t it just intrigue you? And I think it’s infinitely more classy than any three words that ever came out of, say, these people. Alas, the back-room joke now will forever be back-room; it will never be on the cover of a mediocre late-night anime adaptation of a light novel, never see the light of the day, or the dim glow of a gigantic warehouse.

I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves. This is the cover of Funi’s DVD/BD box set and the cover volume 1 of the Japanese DVD/BD release. You can ignore the red circle pointing out how Funi “censored” the artwork if you wish. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, well, you can write “Endless Pleasure Sticks” about three hundred and thirty four times and it would be worth just as much as that picture. And you won’t even need to photoshop anything.

And since I started out blaming Google, why don’t I end it the same way? If Google’s search was smart enough to realize that any copywriter would want to see those three words used to describe our titular heroine, why doesn’t it give it to said writer? If GRSI wasn’t deprecated I could’ve linked you to the said juicy goodness. Disappointing internet gods, that lot.


On Patrons, Authors

To get this post, make sure you check out the podcast or read up on Quarkboy’s (Sam Pinansky) new project, from the ANN Cast link below.

[Quarkboy's announcement is potentially huge news, but since it's not really official yet, despite that he has confirmed it to the degree of his internet presence. So I guess I'll spin that post for later, when it's a real deal, hopefully this Autumn.]

ANN Cast, March 9th, 2012:

[Quarkboy:] …patronage… [You can start at 31:20]

ANN Forums (post transcribed to an easier-to-read format):

Surrender Artist wrote: Would fans who fund a project have any influence over the production, such as delegates on the production committee? Would they be treated as people who had just placed really, really advance preorders or more like shareholders entitled to some portion of the revenue?

[]

Zac [Bertschy] wrote: It’s full circle, though.

“Okay, we’ve removed your ability as an artist to make money through traditional means by breaking laws that nobody enforces.

Now, if you want to make a living as an artist, you have to do it this way.

By the way, if you want to make money this way, I get to dictate to you what your art has to be.”

There are probably millions of people who see nothing wrong with this model whatsoever.

[Quarkboy wrote:] But the micro-patronage model avoids this problem by essentially making any individual opinion too small to matter.

Doesn’t having a million donors giving $1 allow an artist more freedom than 1 company providing $1 million in a budget?
I don’t really see how
“By the way, if you want to make money this way, I get to dictate to you what your art has to be.”
doesn’t pretty much apply to the way things are today with large corporate funding. Think about how many anime directors have probably been told “Hey, we want you to use this song for your opening and ending.” because the music production company is a big part of the committee…

ANN Forums (the next dialog in the same discussion chain):

[Zac wrote:] I guess then it boils down to this: “Hey artist, who would you rather be a slave to? A huge soulless corporation or your demanding fans and their terrible ideas?”

I don’t think creative input should be part of *any* micro-patronage thing, or even any “angel investment” scenario. If the idea here is to empower the fan to more directly support the artist, we should also have total creative freedom for the artist baked in to any agreement. After all, everyone’s buying in because they believe in that artist’s vision.

Penny-Arcade, 3/16/2012 (about Bioware’s response to Mass Effect 3 ending issue):

Ownership is a very complicated business when it comes to cultural product, though.  They succeed by virtue of the fact that we, as players, incorporate these stories into our lives.  I’ve always wondered what the conflux of digital goods, interactive storytelling, algorithmic content creation, and democratized funding mean for an idea like authorship.  I think we’re beginning to find out.

Do you need me to spell it out for you? It’s terribly exciting.


You Were So Close, Justin!

I rather like the lucid description of the home video business. It’s clear that this was Justin’s area of concentration in his feature describing the “Anime Industry.” Quotes, because it’s more about finance than industry.

I have a no-longer-hidden agenda about this: if people can learn and be equipped with how the finance end and the way money moves between parties in this industry, they would at least try to only whine about intelligible things and say things that makes sense. Or so I hope. Actually any improvement from the status quo is desirable, and I was hoping a home videos guy like him can at least answer this question:

Why didn’t anyone buy Kaiba?

Let’s recall Crunchyroll’s troll graphics reposted from /a/

It’s oh-so-easy to believe that the success of an anime project is based on how well it sells on DVD or BD or what have you. After all, it’s true. But it’s also not true in a bunch of cases. There are a lot of nuances and it’s not always the same thing even if we narrow things down to only late night anime bankrolled by the typical production committee. It’s not even always the same thing if we narrow it to just, say, noitamina shows (maybe a topic for another day). The break-even factor is also a big deal; by default a production committee show doesn’t need to make all its money back from home video (with exceptions). Anything that is an adaptation already is going to have the original material being pushed by some marketing person trying to sell it.

Anyway, the point is, this is not so simple! It may not even make the kind of logical sense you think it makes (or I think it makes).

So when I’m reading this pretty neat essay about the home video business (kind of wished he went into BD vs DVD a bit, but oh well) and you see this chart:

I’m like, great, now everyone is going to think somehow home video sales to break even equals the cost of the production equal a production that doesn’t lose money. It’s not even what Justin was referring to at that point.

Which is, actually, okay. Because people who don’t know much about the finances of all this wouldn’t know what the Manabi line is. But those who do would be like, wait, why is it so high?

Actually it is always good to be critical of stuff you read on the internet. And Manabi line was born on the internet. So let’s go to the best write-up we have so far about that.

2301~3000 
Many titles fall in this category. Marginally performing shows, many of which didn’t sell as much as their popularity would make you think they would.
Ex: Manabi Straight!, true tears #1, Sketchbook, Gun X Sword, Yami to Boshi to Hon no Tabibito

3001~4000
The line of profitability. Also the line at which one could say a title is doing okay, but some may call some titles that sell this many a failure, so it’s quite hard to judge.
Ex: Denno Coil, Soul Eater, School Days, Linebarrels of Iron, Super Robot Swars OG, etc

First thing, easy low-hanging fruit: the Manabi line is the oricon first-week figure. Note that in Justin’s write up there is a big point about how even some poorly sold show can break even in the long run, and that’s really at play here. To that end, some numbers I read suggests that for the typical late-night anime we’re looking about maybe 10-15% additional Oricon-recorded sell-through until it gets lost in the noise. So the 3000 or 2900 figure for the Manabi line is ballpark enough.

Second, it is quite hard to judge, even for 2ch types in general. That kind of accounting is just off limits to outsiders. And it would be expected that different productions break even at different points, even if they may be within the proverbial ball park. So given that I am not the 2ch type, I am not going to make a guess here. Or rather, should you?

Man, she really is a problem child.

So when it comes down to it, it’s not extremely difficult to break even. I think that is the whole point behind late night TV anime. There are a lot of juicy stuff that supports this in detail that is left out of Justin’s first part write-up, so maybe one of these days we can talk about it. For now, please just don’t get the wrong idea about something something BD/DVD sales something profit. It is not so simple.

I know I know I just linked to a simple ranking where BD/DVD sales something something …wait, just what does it mean? It’s kind of a trick question isn’t it? Significance, I think, is the metric. Which may not be the same thing as profitable or success. Something to think about.

I’ll leave you with one more thing to think about: Manabi Straight is getting a Blu-ray box. It joins the rest of the cast of digitally-created anime from before Macross Frontier. I mean, most shows break even is a pretty safe bet I’d say.


Covering Anime News: What?

This is something I normally don’t think about but it is something I make decisions on everyday.

Just what is “covering the news” for anime? What is “anime news”? I mean let’s get it out of the way first, by anime I mean how I tag my posts by the moniker “modern visual culture.” It’s like why Genshiken is more about lounging around, a lifestyle and perspective, rather than just content–games, manga, anime, whatever. Culture sounds like the right term, but I don’t think it conveys the message in a direct, intuitive way.

But anyway, you know what I’m referring to by “anime news.” I think such kind of trivial game is what defines the coverage provided by Anime News Network. When it comes to the culture, though, that’s how everyone else covers the news. From ANN’s new  “interests” posts to half the stuff on Sankaku Complex (as the other half is outright porn). I mean with Kotaku East, it’s already well within the same target.

When I started writing for Japanator back in ’08 I wanted to see a Gawker-style blog covering the news. The usual 2ch coverage blogs were really where most of the goods were at–in fact if we took that away the amount of online news for “anime” (which I will continue to use quotes for when used in this context) would drop by like, 75%. But in 2012 terms that isn’t really a problem. The time gap between when something hits 2ch and something hits our intrepid ANN news team to the time it hits the 9001 blogs that repost from the same group of blogs is trivial. I mean the REALLY big news break on twitter just as fast, these blogs merely provide text space beyond the 140th character.

Plus I would imagine most people reading that are more interested for IP they like and for overall amusement value. Well, I guess I’m going to ask the handful of people here: do you even care about “anime news”? Do you read it? Why do you read it?

I’m more inclined to think that there are a few modes in which we consume news. It’s therefore first order of business to cover news that satisfy these modes of consumption. Obviously it still can be informative even if people are just looking for some LULZ in their “animu newz”; some news need the right spin on them, and it’s up to a news site to put the right spin on them. I think that’s the biggest problem to “anime news” in general: I’ve not seen too many people crunching out these blurbs doing that. I mean I guess this is partly why Artefact gets readers.

By right spin I mean simply putting it in a way where it gets people to realize that there’s more to it. To do it in a way that doesn’t make you the laughingstock is not easy, and at least you would want to at least be banking it if people are going to look down on you. And to some extent ANN is just too tied up with its corporate interests to rock the boat much. Such is the catch-22 of hiring full-time writers. There’s no money in this business as far as I can tell, besides to basically work half way as an advertising agency, or as a social network/media piracy site, or something in between.

There’s nothing wrong with that per se, let me quickly add–anime (and game and manga etc) in English-language is a poorly, horribly covered thing. It can use all the ads it can get. But it becomes a limit in terms of actually covering the news. You can’t piss off Funimation, you can’t piss off the cons you sponsor, etc.

Personally I’m getting pretty tired of it. At least there is a distinct improvement over years past in terms of the overall primary news sites being able to elevate news from merely ads-disguised-as-news (even if it still happens). We have to accept that “anime news,” by default, involves some amount of that. But I don’t know what can be done; it seems nobody really gives it a damn.

What I want to see more, as I probably have mentioned elsewhere, is original coverage. I want to see more American/western news. I want to see more of, say, MAL covered by American sites than 2ch, LOL. I think this is exactly the problem that “anime news” coverage in English language have–we’re not shameless enough to dig everywhere for everything, and those who are shameless enough aren’t interested or is unable to do so (eg., porn). Curating the news in a way where we take the information we see everyday and repack them as “news” is ultimately what I want to see. I want to see a lifestyle being written up, where the pieces of new information such a news site bring us edifies us and tells us important things, but also make us aware what goes beyond just the grinding that happens to be the life of a poorly paid online blogger.

I guess it’s all about having the right narrative after all.

And this is not to say anything of features and editorials, which slinks over to a different kind of mindset.


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