Category Archives: Fate

Thinking about Fanservice, Considering “Infodump”

Just tying some thought down to a peg somewhere, so bear with me.

Elsewhere, I mentioned that the oft-complained about treatment of Fate/Zero’s verbose scenes describing the nitpicking details the…fourth? Holy Grail War is fanservice. I think once I mentioned it on this very blog, if not directly then indirectly. This is, in my opinion, is another way to approach the bigger issue of the role of fanservice as illustrated on the Cart Driver.

I think fanservice (sexual sort) is no different than any other kind of prurient material. It’s seen as the kind of pejorative you use to describe pornography–there is a single-minded purpose, or maybe a sort-of-broad, but singular, general purpose in which the media operates within. However I don’t think that describes accurately of how fanservice is in anime, or just how popular media has transformed over the past years. Can porn be entertaining? I’m sure. Can it be entertaining as what we categorize as non-porn? I’m pretty sure of that too; tho that is just a guess as it is thoroughly a category of media I am not versed in.

To go back to anime, the oft-maligned panty shot, for example, is classic example of fanservice, but it often has a role in a work. I think one of the best example of this is in Kara no Kyoukai #1–it is among Nasu’s earliest works, and it is kind of, shall we say, dreary. Something like a panty shot actually helps to punctuate a generally very serious film with something that will trigger a predictable response from its predominantly otaku audience. It serves like a pick-me-up in the middle of that one-hour film.

I mean just imagine if Fate/Zero episode 1 had a cute (not exploitative) fanservice scene in the middle of the episode. I think it might still turn off a group of viewer not that interested in the material, but it would serve well for pacing’s sake for viewers not invested in Nasuverse, but is interested in otaku media. I’ll come back to this example later.

The bigger point I’m trying to make, and I think Cart Driver totally failed at discussing, is that fanservice in anime often do serve a purpose–most sort of pandering in anime these days do. The important thing is to understand the context of the reasons behind why fanservice type X and for audience group Y because of…why? I think that should be the focus of the discussion.

It kind of addresses my main pet peeve when it comes to discussion about these sort of complaints. A lot of people dismiss some anime titles and write them off for reasons they think are objective, but in reality it is just a fancy way to say “title Z does not pander to my interests.” I think in the post-database-animal days of anime it is a lot more honest and simple to say that, for example, “battle manga” style characterization and plot progression is, just like any table, column or cell of a database, is something exchangeable, interchangeable, and is a thing that some people will like and others dislike or don’t care about. Instead, otaku interests focus on execution of applying these elements to the work. (I think this is a big reason behind the rise of the sakuga otaku overseas as people slowly catch on.) Everything has a plot, most anime have characters, and the way certain things are written or developed usually is out of some purposed database concept, a set of checkboxes, if you will, in which the way things are executed make the most sense if you first identified what those checkboxes are. That is, unless you want to look for something at a place where that thing isn’t intended to be there, and likely isn’t going to be there. (And that is not to say you won’t ever find it or even that is a pointless thing to do, but it seems like an exercise of fitting a square peg into a round hole.)

In other words, using an expanded definition of what “fanservice” refers to, when a viewer encounters a block of content on the show that panders to a specific group that viewer isn’t a part of (or perhaps more aptly, a group that the viewer doesn’t even wants to be associated with at all, or is entirely unaware that the content segment is tailored for that group), that becomes a detriment to the viewing experience. So when someone like that watches Fate/Zero ep1, they may understand that ultimately it is some kind of characterization and setting the ground work, but it would appear very dry to them. It is a little bit better than the hypo where a prude sits through a (sexual) fanservice scene, because in that case often you get the reverse impact where the scene signals to viewer that this is not the show s/he is looking for. In Fate/Zero’s case, the viewer would just miss out on the entertainment portion of Fate/Zero episode 1 and is thus left with just the dry crumbs of circular-walk-talk. If the purpose of the double-length episode 1 of F/Z is to educate and entertain, people who aren’t interested in the more otaku-ish aspect of Nasuverse or just aren’t aware of them, will miss out on the entertain part. [Maybe they should’ve played karuta!]

Well, at least I can see why ufotable went that way. Urobuchi does do tl;dr from time to time (remember the entropy lecture in Madoka?), and given the compressed nature of episode 1 (after all, it’s stuff they are required to go through to get to the money shots, might as well get it over with one shot), inserting all these referential entertainment and interests into the exposition may be the most logical way to go about it. Unfortunately that just isn’t what a western/Hollywood-bred audience is used to. The alternative, to use a personal anecdote, is like when I tried to watch Game of Thrones TV, it takes a few episodes to just to get all the names straight. And by a few episodes that is 2 or 3 hours, versus 3 or 4 22-minute segments (ie., well under 2 hours) that is Fate Zero eps 1-3. And just to finish the anecdote, I didn’t like the fanservice (both the sexual kind and the pandering-to-people-who-appreciates-the-details-from-the-book kind) so I dropped the show. But it wasn’t for the lack of or poor execution on HBO’s part.

This overall notion of fanservice is, I guess, the reason why I said Fate/Zero panders to otaku. Even if on the merit of the thing, there’s a lot to like just from a general nerd-geek sense. You’ve got fancy legendary historic figures that a western audience would be familiar with (the historical fiction aspect) doing some visually excellent stuff, with a fairly dynamic plot that is expansive and multidimensional, with a well-developed cast of characters (as far as in terms of the novels) that are largely interesting.

In a sense, what I’m saying is, in full circle, in agreement with notions that Fate/Zero clumsily executed certain aspects in the adaptation. But the reasons behind them are not what I think some claim they are. I mean as someone who is invested in Nasuverse I think it’s hard to argue that episode 1 wasn’t at least intriguing, even if it is a lot of TL;DR. Or, as others have put it, despite that it is TL;DR.

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The King of Conquerors

One of the neat thing about Fate universe is its historical fiction aspect. Unfortunately, like most Japanese take on actual western things, it doesn’t quite match with what I have in mind when I think about Alexander the Great. In fact when the first promo for Fate/Zero came out, it left me sort of worried. The Iskander/Waver story is one of the best parts of Zero, after all, and I was hoping, if anything, that the adaptation would retain the Waver/Rider story’s charisma.

I mean, in my mind, Alexander the Great is this guy who died in his prime. Granted people back then don’t live very long on average, but he died when he was just 33 years old. (And from what I can tell, while that is higher than the average life expectancy for the period/location, once we take away the impact of child mortality anyone older than 15 should live to on average over 40 years.) Maybe that qualified you as “old” by anime standards, but it doesn’t mesh with the popular depiction of Alexander the Great in the west. I mean he’s middle-eastern, sure, but more to the tones of a pretty Greek dude and less of a crafty mountain bandit image. It would be weird once he starts playing video games!

Second, Alexander the Great is a great general. I think one of the most fabled thing about him is reportedly not losing a single battle. It also makes him one of probably the best military general ever lived on earth, given his exploits. At least in a top-5 list for sure. I’m not sure if the anime actually got this right when describing his background.

Third, and perhaps the most important one, is that it is with his sheer charisma that Alexander the Great was able to unite the large territories he conquered. The anime seems to build the Iskander Rider character out of this notion, and his semi-foolish claims of taking over the world (and had the means to at least made the joke seemingly less funny). That part is fine by me, at least in the sense that Fate Zero can also be a primer to history and bringing to life a historical marvel. At least, as long as you don’t think Alexander the Great is actually like this, or King Arthur is actually a person. I mean Arthur could be a girl for all we know.

There is a lot to be said about Waver too. I think in the book Waver was more appealing as someone who had ideals about meritocracy but failed to look within and see the flaws that tarnished his capabilities. Besides instilling a spine into the lad, Iskander is a mentor, a friend, and someone who is simply just better than Waver and inspires Waver to become a better person despite the Grail War circumstances making things difficult. The anime captures the interpersonal dynamics pretty well, but I think of Waver more a tsundere than the semi-dere little critter that he seems to be in the anime. By painting Waver as this green-behind-the-ears grasshopper slash bumbling academic, the overall dynamics will work. I just think he is probably a little too soft-boiled. I mean even Azaka Kokutou would’ve schooled the boy, and I always thought just by being a Mage at the Tower at one point, Waver was already better than that. Well, that’s just me.

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I just want to note that I was in the last round of close beta for Sword Girls, which is this online collectable card game featuring pixiv-style moe girl visuals. It is a pretty fun game as far as a free-to-play online doohicky goes. The CCG mechanics lend themselves more to that style of play than actually decking it out and counting cards and what not like M:tG or whatever. Sure, you can do that in the game too, but it all feels too fancy and more about getting redraws to fish for combo cards. I guess what I’m trying to say is that some moe card games are solidly built on proven mechanics, others are more interesting and fancy than proven. Still I can see myself playing it from time to time. Top image is from said game.


The Adaptation Consumption Mentality

As I anticipate Fate Zero the anime on a week to week basis, I’m forced to recognize that this show is actually made more for fans and less for people who may not have had that baptism of Nasu-ism. But more importantly, let’s take Fate Zero’s meticulous adaptation of the first battle royale for example.

One of the initial reactionary threads from Fate Zero’s first episode is how there’s all these talking heads and talking points. We see a lot of little things that are nods to fans of Nasuverse, but it’s mostly a premeditative piece, giving us the ground work.

Maiya wasn’t introduced until episode 3. Saber and Lancer didn’t cross blades until episode 4. That’s close to how the novel panned out pacing-wise. The bulk of the first novel (out of four) sets the up the events from the first episode, cumulating to the scene where the masters summon their servants and ending with the first real battle. That probably means we will not see it wrap up until episode 6, or about one quarter of the 25(?)-episode run. That also means this battle that started at the end of episode 3 would not conclude until probably the end of episode 5 at the earliest, more likely until episode 6. If I recall correctly there’s a nice built-in gap that transitions between the end of the fight and the start of the next scene. It is also probably the first time I’ve watched an anime with a 3 or 4-ep fight scene that is not at the climax, in years.

The interesting thing is, I’ve already read the fan translations; I know what will happen in Fate Zero. There are little reasons to doubt that ufotable’s adaptation will stray much, if at all, from Urobuchi’s novels. If Kara no Kyoukai is any indication, they won’t stray unless they absolutely have to out of constraints of the medium. As such, there are no mystery for me left to discover besides the adaptation itself; the craft of the animation, breathing in an essence of life into what used to just be words. And as an aside, yea, those things are enjoyable thanks to ufotable’s Kyoani-esqe take on the source material, largely with a straight face. But that isn’t what is driving my desire to follow the show religiously; it merely keeps the flame going in the face of seeing all those talking heads, even in the heat of the battle (complete with DBZ-esqe narration).

And still, why do I anticipate Fate Zero so? Why do I pine from each subsequent episode when I already know what will happen next? More curiously, is this the case for someone who hasn’t read the novels? What would drive them to follow the story with eager anticipation? Unknowingly, I was building a set of expectations and a framework in order to view and to appreciate Fate Zero, in a diverging way than someone (that I imagine) who may like Fate/Nasuverse, but who did not read Fate Zero before. And it’s probably safe to say that is yet different than the reactions of people who don’t know anything about Nasuverse or don’t care much about it.

I suppose after putting it to words, none of these realizations are surprising. In a way I have already externalized these things–adaptations can cater to new folks and old friends alike, but they are distinct groups of viewers with some of the same and some diverging needs in order to be immersed and be able to contextualize with the work. I just think when it comes to Fate Zero, there is a pretty gaping hole between these two groups. Or just me and everyone else. Or at least something in between the two extremes.

I think there must be works in which the very opposite happens; that when adopted, there is just one primary framework in which we engage the work, fans or not. And given how so many anime are adaptations, it’s probably common. To go another step, I suspect this is a very big deal when it comes to stuff like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Game of Thrones. In the Game of Thrones case, I’ve already seen exactly that dynamics come into play; and the same kind of pitfalls anime adaptations fall into, you can see it in those too–namely, when things tries to cater too much at the expense of the straight-face take.

Still, none of that explains the circle-walk between Kotomine Sr. and Tohsaka Sr. That is totally not from anything.


Anime That Saves Anime

I think it’s a small exaggeration to say that this season is the season where anime saves anime. By that I mean while as an avid viewer like myself might find, at any given season, a good dose of TV anime that are worth the time watching, it’s rarely the case that I can pick up a show and recommend to the average anime-aware nerd who may even be keen on a few titles of their own. When such a show appears, those rare viewer types perk up to listen for it, and goes to fetch it.

I suppose part of this thinking came about because I have friends who may have liked certain thing (like Final Fantasy 7, for example) but would have otherwise find the offering slim pickings out of what anime output OTA to the tube in the last 10 years. It’s without any irony that I can offer Fate Zero or Guilty Crown to these guys. Okay, maybe with a sliver of irony.

The more interesting thing is shows like Hourou Musuko and Madoka Magica were pretty good, to pick something else in 2011, but they are much harder to access by those guys. It’s like the average video game/anime overlapping demographic of over the age of 28 or something tend not to lean in that direction. I am even wondering if Redline falls in that category (or not). But then again, 28 is pretty old for this stuff. The younger crowd would have had a better tolerance for a much more fancier chuunibyou material that didn’t have that backbone Steins;Gate demonstrated, or that sense of lighthearted adventure you can find in anime back in the 90s.

Is this why Kenichi is getting an OAV?

There’s just something, an intangible way that it makes you feel, that shows like Guilty Crown gives off. It’s like sinking your teeth into FF7 and spending your first few hours into that landmark game.

The thing is, despite the mind-blowing fabulousness that is Mawaru Penguindrum, I’m not so sure that even fits. Cute and funny penguins do go a long way to break down that barrier. It’s as if the show just wasn’t written for that oversea audience, though.

Which is to say, while I am much less critical of the new Last Exile than some, that intangible feel is definitely running thin in the pilot episode. Perhaps it’s just a case of nostalgia being less accurate of what it was, but it would be the first time I find Maaya Sakamoto not the most welcomed vocal in a show. I mean, great song, but it just doesn’t fit the show. That’s not to mention the way how the animation turned out.

TL;DR: Having boobs is great, but it’s how you use it that makes all the differences.


Big Bang Opening

I’m not a huge fan of the typical fanfare pilot episode where you gotta make things interesting to hook people in. I’m more a fan of “make every episode interesting.”

Take the Fate Zero tl;dr mess of 47 minutes of episode 1. Gia points out a long moment where we’re just looking at a relic. Sure, we could be looking at something slightly more interesting (like Iri’s knockoff/hand-me-down gown she got from the Lunar Princess) while the notion of a conceptual weapon is explained to us. Instead we were just looking at the conceptual weapon itself.

But if you are a so-called fan of the franchise, that’s exactly what you want to see in episode 1. It’s like watching for the old crew from Patlabor in the second Patlabor movie. Or Saito in Tsuiokuhen. Or Akito in Prince of Darkenss. Or any One Piece character in Strong World. You get the idea. The scabbard of Excalibur is such an important icon in the Fate story that you can probably spin off a series just on the quest for it. It’s like one of those D&D RPG thing where the weapon has got its own epic tale across the time and space, because its soul still burns, or something.

Back on topic; a big bang opening is nice to see, but I can’t get the distaste of it out of my mouth–the 2000s were full of them from Hollywood. I think that is why I also think this is not as good of an idea as it claims it is. When you get 50% or more saturation, the same rhythm and pacing really can get on your nerves. It’s like, okay, when I go to a club I expect UNCE UNCE UNCE but when I put on some classical music I hear the same UNCE UNCE UNCE it’s going to be more annoying than Pachelbel’s Canon and its prevalence in music. When every action movie has the same structure and pacing and there’s nothing that surprises me (except for things that are surprising bad), it’s like having too much candy.

That’s not even the worse of it.

I remember Dogs Days. (Grats on S2 btw.) It’s a nice show, and some people really like the animated “American Ninja” sequences sort of thing. Great. Those game shows are fun to watch and have been around for decades in Asia. In the anime format it’s also pretty fun. So that’s why when we turn on to Majikoi and Horizon this week we see a similar schtik playing out. It somehow doesn’t surprise me at all that I find Horizon’s take a little easier to like, hypnotic swaying of large mammaries not withstanding, because it’s the anime equivalent of a car chase. And we know how there’s no real good car chases these days except in car films, let alone in anime where they are as rare as they come already. I guess all I’m saying is that even in doing the same thing, there are some stuff one can do to significantly distinguish itself from the rest. It’s like a good hook; it doesn’t have to be big, it just has to catch on. So rather than going big, it’s better to just, you know, go.

Which, compared to the subdued dialog torrent that is Fate Zero episode 1, it’s no wonder people found it dull. How do people survive high school these days? It’s way more dull and that’s compulsory and much longer.


Catching Fate Zero

I like to give my first impression of Fate Zero, but it’s tainted; I read the fan-translation of the novels already. Is it a surprise that I had some problems initially keeping track of characters…in Hourou Musuko? I’d like to chalk that one for dropping the anime adaptation in the middle of the manga volume 3 or 4 or whatever. Can we do the same for dropping you in the beginning of a prequel? Or just the fact that this is truly an adaptation for an audience who probably already had access to a series of books by a mildly famous light novel writer, at least among the anime otaku crowd? I’m not sure. But I can imagine people new to Fate Zero having some trouble keeping everything straight and getting their attention span working fine during the middle stretch of the first episode. I suppose when I was reading the novels I had a little problem keeping everything straight, too. I guess blaming Urobuchi is always the safest thing to do.

Instead of complaining about Ei Aoki’s treatment of neophyte viewers, I would rather just complain about Aniplex’s distribution of information about their awesome simulcast. From what I can tell, here’s the thing:

1. Episode one of Fate Zero was a 2-ep length deal, or an hour long with ads. This means the simulcast’s 11 PM JST time lined up right when it ended its first airing in Japan. That was when ep1 went live today. Which is 9AM PDT or 12 noon EDT. It is right on target as far as Niconico’s English Fate Zero portal goes. Note that it is a nicovideo.jp site, and not associated with the nicovideo.com site.

2. On Aniplex USA’s site, it says 8:30AM Pacific. That’s 10:30 PM JST time right now, thanks to daylight savings. Soon that’s going to be 9:30AM Pacific so those west coast guys don’t have to wake up THAT early to catch the simulcast. This means to me that they will simulcast the next episodes right after the Japanese domestic first airing ends, so that is moving up by 30 minutes compared to today’s broadcast time.

3. From what I heard today on Twitter, there were some load issues from international viewers. Not sure what that was about; I refresh monkey’d at right around 11:59am Eastern and it worked like a charm.

Someone at AWA please go talk to the Aniplex reps? Or maybe they can answer my emails or something? :3

As for the show itself? It’s awesome. Especially the magi-stereo segment. That is almost Phantasmoon good.

Edit: Aniplex USA returns my email (On a Saturday night!) and confirms the 8:30 PDT time for next week. All’s well in the world.