The Problem with Turn-A Gundam as Comparative Analysis for Aldnoah.Zero And Why You Should Do More

I read this and it just reminds me why I don’t read that much blogging these days. It is missing the essence that makes the comparison compelling–context.


Nonetheless, the article raises some good points. I think it can do a better job using another show for the point of comparison though. Like, Nadesico. Both Turn-A and Nadesico are product of their times. If we go back 15-18 years the world of the teenage, male protagonist in a giant robot show is different that how it is today. The post 9-11 world brought us things like the Celestial Beings and Eden of the East. But the whole giant/super mecha genre, as far as that protagonist dude goes, has already ran its course by the time we got Evangelion, and that predates both.

These two shows that dates after are probably better framed in that we’re getting different spins on them. Nadesico, for example, has a harem cook who doesn’t really like fighting but was thrusted into the position. The tragedy (and thematic concern here) is that ultimately he goes back to devoting his life to fighting in order to “end it” for good, even if he does end up with somewhat of a happy ending.

In Aldnoah, we have a stoic dude who uses some commodity components to go up against specialized, overpowered special mecha that are piloted by people who probably could do a better job using their nice giant robots. It’s in essence the antithesis of Gundam, where some angsty teen pilot some super-power tech and blows up the sea of commodity components. Sounds like a thematic statement to me!

It’s all the more funny to see the comparison to Turn A in that context, because in that show there were no commodity components. Everyone’s giant robot is some fossil from the earth or from the moon. It’s one of the more fascinating aspects about Turn A, actually. Imagine wars where once you lose your equipment, it is irreplaceable.

The comparison with Nadesico doesn’t fare better, but it is. In that show, the Jovians used their exo techs to create a lot of autonomous fighting machines, which is the commodity components Earth forces had to go up against. In that sense, both sides developed different ways of fighting that suited them, using some similar, newfound and game-changing technologies such as the phase transmission technology. The funny thing about that is how the story takes a turn via the super-robot inspired Jovian special units, making good on real robots versus super robots. In terms of Aldnoah, which is probably a step down to non-robots versus real robots, I wonder if you can actually make a point about all of it. In that sense, Akito’s luck or drive or circumstances, whatever, allowed him to be an effective element on the battlefield. What attributes that Inaho possesses which enabled his success in these skirmishes, so far, are not an unique element, merely uncommon. Perhaps he is in the right place at the right time, so there’s also that.

With the latest episode bringing (or maybe merely upgrading) the White Base trope, I guess it isn’t unfair to compare Aldnoah.Zero with every Gundam and Gundam-like anime out there. But I think whichever show you use, the approach has to be the thematic and not merely on superficial aspects. And to get that far you have to get an idea what the context of these shows we’re evoking.

Now, someone please do one with Gundam Build Fighters, because it would be fun to see someone possibly talk about that one UC dude who lost because LOL, wrong genre wrong show. I mean a big reason why I walk the meta path as a fan is because otaku mecha genre is an ongoing dialog between fans and creators, creations to creations, and ultimately it’s a disco hall where themes commingle, not so much like a database but more like an orgy where things sometimes don’t make sense, and it’s okay. And that’s really what makes Aldnoah.Zero stand out, it’s like that one straight line in a sea of noise, narratively.

Otakon 2014 Wrap 2: It’s a Raid

I tried to get “Cyber Cyber” or “Mountain Explosion” into the blog post title to no avail. I want to just kind of finish up the Otakon experience write-down here but also segue into a bigger notion of cons being fan-organized endavors that require a lot of what goes for well-organized commercial enterprises (eg., mid-size companies).

Boss Azumin

I mean in terms of staff headcout, Otakon and has enough staff and gofers to make up a mid-size company. I want to evoke the raid concept–maybe for you that’s Naxx 40 or something WOW-ish. Or maybe we’re talking about 100-200-man type outdoor rumps back in EQ times (or FFXI, for those who play it). Or worse you have server-crashing EVE skirmishes that can take up even more warm bodies (and bots) behind the screen. In all of these cases some amount of organization is paramount for a group greater than size N to be able to still accomplish something complicated enough, with enough effectiveness to worth everyone’s while. It’s doubly so when we are talking a “PVP” sense. For any challenge or objective we can probably break them down into manageable-sized tasks. “Top off the tank” or “don’t stand in the fire” for example. You could think the same thing about cons, such as “don’t block the hallway” or “hold the ‘end of line’ sign at the end of pre-reg line.”  At some level, you organize similar or related sets of tasks and assign them to a group of people who deal with them. Like “melee DPS group” or “autograph department”  or “accounting.” I mean, it’s the same principles here for any normal company or organization.

This is kind of the reason why when, say, AX, fired a bunch of department heads and long-time staffers a few years back, it was not only a big deal, it’s a bigger deal than what most people think it can be. Imagine you have some good-going raid group and the new guild leader just removed everyone who had a leadership role. It isn’t to say the people who came back to replace them doesn’t know what they were doing necessarily, but it’s going to be a new experience for them running AX. There’s always a learning curve. This isn’t as severe in a MMORPG setting but the same things happen. You wipe and rely on the people who were there before to help the new leaders find the grooves and niches they were meant to replace. AX’s volunteers do this work, too.

Of course, turnover happens regardless of drastic situations or not. People join and leave any given company, and bigger it gets the more often it happens. This is where guilds fall apart because it’s typically not serious business so a smooth transition depends largely on existing members being flexible enough to work with the new members. But outside of commonly-expected protocols there are little to no structure or process to help newcomers out. Of course, this is kind of the organizational view. Guilds often take a more mentor-style approach where people who join guilds were already “auditioned” before they join by people who know the newcomer. In those cases when someone joins the guild they would already know what is expected of him or her, most of the time. This is a similar approach most cons take–from gofer to staffer, basically.

On the flip side you have companies, you have laws mandating how employees should be treated, especially in cases where they join or leave the company. There is an expectation of certain level of professionalism in those situations. There are rules to follow, bottom lines to guide macro behaviors, and other competitive and regulatory guidelines on how a company behave. I think that’s why I’m trying to evoke that sense of the raid for cons. Both of those things don’t have that expectation of professionalism to the degree that people running those organizations are really up to themselves to figure things out. It’s easy to lose not just the people who will lead others in one way or another, but the notion of how things are even organized to begin with, how people should behave, and the general character of the thing.

What prompted me to digress is basically the way Otakon did its concerts. And it goes for other cons like it. I think they allowed ALTIMA to put on a good show, but for the audience up front it was a bit ruined when they decided to put press and special needs front and center. It just isn’t how you are suppose to do it. Put press, special needs and VIPs to the side. It’s something I’ve whined about before for other cons over the years (as in, 10+ years), because it’s important for an act to see people responding to their  music, and when the average anime con crowd is already a bunch of slackass potato sacks, you gotta let those who are willing to stand and cheer be seen up front. Putting press (who are there professionally, so work with them to not get in the way of the performance) and people who can’t stand up physically in front seems like a nice gesture but ultimately an inexperienced one. Put it in other words, no professional venues do it this way. Try buying some accessibility tickets for Babymetal or Miku or Lady Gaga and see where they put you. That’s where cons should put their accessibility folks.

Let’s put aside that doing things like putting all the sit-down types right up front and put all the stand-up guys behind them look bad for the con and shows that the con is kind of unprofessional about where to seat people, or that it impacts the performance tangibly, the fact that I’m ranting about this in 2014 is a regression. I know Anime North, AnimeNext, AX and ACen all did this right in 2014, because I was there for at least one major JP music guest’s shows at each one of those cons. I know Otakon used to do this correctly, until this year. I had a nice side view at Kanno’s Piano Me, as press, for example. That was fine and well.

Why didn’t things work out that way this year? I can only think it’s because of Otakon’s department turnover leaving details like this fall through the cracks, while they deal with the special show Yoshiki had to put on in the same event space on Sunday.

This is where I make a huge plea to Anime Expo to not suck. AX, believe it or not,  has the best setup for an anime con in terms of music performances. Otakon has really two options for external concert space, and neither are really a good fit. The Arena is too big for anyone not L’arc-en-Ciel (maybe not even VAMPS can get that many warm bodies in there). If JAM Project packs out Anime Boston for 2-3k and Otakon at about 4k back in 2008, it makes a perfect fit for a venue the size of Nokia Theater. Both crowds are arguably too big for the other alternative, Ram’s Head, and even if they aren’t, Ram’s Head is located too far from the con venue. On top of that, there’s Club Nokia, which can probably fit about 1k eventers. All you need to do is saunter across Staples Center to get to the Nokia Plaza, a pretty swanky space actually, and get to the venues. For Otakon, you have to walk 20 minutes or so, following the right path, in order to get to Ram’s Head. Or up a couple city blocks to the First Mariner. Nothing wrong with those walks per se, but it’s definitely nowhere as nice.

All of that means the BCC halls will be ideal compromises for Otakon’s live shows. Which means we’ll be at Otakon’s mercy where to sit. Which means we’ll be at the mercy of people who may be inexperienced about seating people at a concert.

To go back to the AX plea bit. After this year’s AX I’m having serious doubt at AX’s ability to treat its Japanese music guests with the respect I expect from a professional anime con in the US. It’s more than just the incidents involving Kurinoko or how Angela got shafted in regards to what the audience can get from their performances, or that itchy Momoi blog post, or any other various issues with GOHs in AX’s history, no matter who was at the helm of GR or AX or whatever. It’s just that I don’t see this respect when I see how things are planned out to showcase these guests or what attendees and others. It’s like a half-assed raid.

With all that whine, I think it’s good time to turn to stuff we can constructively help cons with, as fans. Part of it is actually be constructive about whining, so I might just write a blurb about how to at least engage the local con communities in the form of at least, letting cons know who are good guests! It’s the least you and I can do, and not enough of us even try.

Japanese Law and Fair Use: Com’on

Short answer is yes, fair uses exist in Japan’s copyright laws.

Long answer is: No, fair use is not a thing in Japan but–

now on ebay!

As a general guideline, US copyright law (I mean the totality: legislation, court rulings, common practices, etc) is a model for many WIPO signatories partly because US is the number one producer and exporter of copyright content, and by far more so once you count the dollars made on top of it. WIPO is the intellectual property organization that make sure laws defining things like copyright is compatible and fair among the countries so we can do commerce. How much they can actually do to enforce stuff is a good question not in the scope of this post. What is, is that Japanese copyright law (and I mean the whole system) is generally modeled after the US one.

Still, Japanese copyright law is different than US copyright law. The key thing is both are WIPO compliant. After signing the WIPO treaty member countries have a duty to make sure their countries’ copyright laws are compatible with WIPO guidelines. This means it generally follows certain guidelines when it comes to defining what is copyrighted, how to obtain copyright protection, and what the protection typically is. The exacts will vary but in general what works for USA will work for Japan in the basic sense, and vice versa. There are too many differences that are beyond the scope of what I want to explain so let’s ignore those for our purposes.

Second thing, we need a basic understanding of what defines “law.” Law comes from a bunch of different sources. In the US, that includes the federal and state constitutions, federal and state legislations, guidelines and rulings from regulatory bodies (like FCC and the SEC and your local state’s DMV for example), and other sources, but utmost important, the rulings from courts. In practice the US Supreme Court is the “highest” rule of the land because they have the power to reinterpret the US Constitution. In more practical terms, the US court system is a common law based one, which means there are a truck load of crap that are law but only defined by the courts. It’s the sign of a modern governance to codify common law into legislation (eg., turn what judge-made laws into actual laws on the books) but that only can go so far.

In our situation with copyright it’s about applying some rule of law and see what is or is not breaking the law. The tools (eg., rules, laws, past legal rulings, etc) available to a court to determine how to apply the rule to whichever situation is often not on the books, because they are just based on prior rulings on similar (but most of the time and ultimately different) fact patterns and non-exact situations.

So, thirdly, let’s define by what we mean when we say “fair use.” This is partly the confusion. There is a specific provision in the US Copyright Act that says as much. However, that (17 US §107) is not the totality of what is now well understood to be the US copyright’s fair use doctrine. The Wikipedia article is more than what you need to know here, but it’s important to realize we are talking about a legal concept rather than codified do’s and don’ts. It’s not just how it’s now codified but rather what has the courts been interpreting this common law concept and applying it. In the USA, fair use is just an affirmative defense against copyright infringement. It means you say “this is fair use” only when someone sues you. Just because you think something is fair use doesn’t prevent people from suing you, although if you get a judge to agree it might help you win the case. This means things like the average ero doujinshi is still copyright infringing works, and it’s up to a court to say that they aren’t before they truly aren’t. This much is true in both US and Japan.

In actual practice, fair use means we can do certain copyright-infringing things and it’s not an infringements. A good example of this is like making and selling those cheesy J-List t-shirts that are categorically ruled as parody, without paying any royalties to the copyright owners. (There’s also a trademark situation here but that is beyond the scope of this post.) Probably an even better one is making cosplay outfits.

The question is then, does Japan’s copyright laws allow these kind of behaviors? Kind of yes, kind of no. To rephrase what I said in other ways, Japan’s copyright law already baked some of these fair-use-y things into the legislation. The most relevant provision in the Japanese Copyright Act is the private use exception. Japan’s copyright act also codified some stuff not in the US one, such as the non-commercial exception or the press exception, but it would only make sense to include them as exceptions because of fair use reasons. So if the copyright act is going to allow specific exceptions that posits the same practical outcome, does “fair use” exist? As a legal concept, probably not. But as a general/practical concept, yes.

Here’s the difference. Fair use as a legal doctrine is not applicable in Japanese law (although it’s not far fetched to see a JP court or a particularly aggressive administration trying to push it. Sup. Mr. Aso?), and with that, they remove a huge ambigious aspect of US Copyright law that many countries also avoid–US is THE fair use state. It just means many of the well-established fair uses are codified in those countries with better legislatures (w) and it gives less power to the courts to rub one out to whichever way the wind blows at the time. The realistic view is that fair use as a matter of commercial predicator is shit. And I do not use this curse word lightly. The problem is until a court says it’s a fair use, and court rules usually on specific facts, how do you know if your use is close enough to the use presented in that court case? It’s such a major pain in the butt that it renders it largely moot for anyone who is actually trying to do something interesting.

So I guess there isn’t fair use as we American lawyers know it, but there are uses that are fair, based on the same reasons why it would be allowed in the US. In practice, yeah you can still do your parody or whatever with almost just as much legal protection in Japan as it you do in America. (Is parody legal in the USA? Yes and no, that’s several books of legal discussion in of itself. It’s certainly not codified. For those who think parody is legal, just go check out Penny Arcade’s “Strawberry Shortcake” situation for a practical example why it’s a lot more difficult to make money doing parodies than you think.) There are reasons why media companies employ huge teams of in-house lawyers on top of firms to do their heavy lifting.

And since I spilled my TL;DR let me go the next step and just say this is how I feel about “artist alley merch” that are basically a shade of grey from shameless copyright infringement. It’s one thing to do a limited print run, it’s another to make a living off it.  The whole “snarky t-shirt” industry can go die in a fire and I would not miss it… I mean, think about it, some poor kid goes to a con and buys some snarky shirts. S/he can spend a fair amount of money and none of it makes it back to Japan. What s/he ends up buying are visual signifier built on the IP, not because s/he wants to stick it to the Man, when s/he buys a shirt with a parody Che-face on it. Yaranaika?

In other words, just because the fair use factors are not codified, doesn’t mean they aren’t still at the heart of the determination of what is allowable, non-copyrightable use. And shouldn’t most what laypeople consider fair uses be non-copyrightable use in this day and age? It really shouldn’t be a defense against copyright infringement. It shouldn’t be copyright infringement to begin with.

Further reading:

  • Japanese government’s unofficial translation of Japan’s Copyright Act: 著作権法
  • Just googled up some paper pointing out how fair use rights vary between US, CAN, and JP in parody.
  • All those wikipedia links I put up there but mainly: US Fair Use, Japan Fair Use.

PS. All due respect to their quality work, ANN should get a lawyer on staff so they can cite an actual legal professional rather than just sounding like there’s some authority from someone who knows the law. That’s bush league and can even get you into legal trouble. It can’t be that hard to find a contractor this day and age, right?

PPS. This post has some inaccuracies. I tried to stay clear the details, because to get those right I need to do research and I just don’t have the time.

PPPS. It’s really about this and that. The one thing I omitted is how in Japan this is now criminal. Which in my opinion is serious bull-caca. At any rate, don’t say “there is no fair use in Japan” and then go talk parodies, because parodies are not even entirely legal under a fair use regime. Then again, don’t even say racist stuff?

Otakon 2014: Wrap

TL;DR – I partied too hardily, so tired, didn’t get to do all I wanted to do.

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Otakon 2014: Prep Notes

A fellow wota has one nice schedule that he was sharing with people on his social network attending Otakon. It sort of sums up my feeling about Otakon this year.

Despite being located a 3-hour drive away from home, Otakon is my home con in that I feel at home there. I am familiar with it. The con is run, for the past decade plus, by the same group of people. For better or worse, it brings a strong continuity and a sense of familiarity to the convention that I’ve been attending since I was way younger. And I’ve met all kind of people via Otakon as an offkai. Don’t offkai at cons, they say, but that’s only because it misses the fact that America is huge-large and it’s in this context of physical reality shaping cultural sensibilities that one can have a home con at all. It doesn’t seem like a strange concept, but it makes you wonder how do Tokyoites feel about the events that happen year-round in the city, versus some countryside hick and the few events they have locally.

Enough about that. My seventeenth-to-be Otakon is shaping up to be a chill weekend. A major programming track called “Yoshiki” is largely off my schedule due to non-interest. I guess I could splurge for his MSG show with the rest of the X-Japan crew if I must, but I just can’t spare the energy–attention span–to mark and process it. There are just too much else going on that I can barely keep up with.

For once, Otakon is going to be focused on hanging out. There is still plenty of logistical challenges that face the fans following the GOH tracks I follow, plus the usual ones that almost everyone has to deal with. So let’s see. Like how to score some time to eat dinner on Friday.

Back meme

Baltimore RW week begins last week and continues into the next. This means some good deals for people who want to eat a little more upscale.

There is a possibility that panel tickets will be in play this year for autograph sessions, which applies mainly for ALTIMA and Hayami Saori. ALTIMA might have an autograph session after their concert, it’s not certain and it may not be likely. There are not much in terms of changes in how Otakon is suppose to do autographs (and the fact that you can find out well before the con is a huge plus for Otakon and how it works the thing), but they are using a new space this year, in the Hyatt. We’ll see how that turns out. More info here.

Opening ceremony might be worth going to just to catch Ojou/Sats/Motsu before her show during the day. Hayamin supposedly has a rough schedule and might only be at the con in a meaningful sense on Saturday. Gotta play that by ear.

I’m a big sucker for Mai Mai Miracle, and I think Katabuchi can do it…as in, become a popular anime filmmaker. The question is how. He is going to talk about his new film at Otakon and I might even make it to the first panel where he’s going to talk about it. There’s an art exhibition, which hopefully I can catch at some point during the weekend. One last thing, his birthday is on Sunday, 8/10.

Matsubara-san is also a cool bro. I just hope I can make his programs without issues, at least he has a bunch of them. Play by ear. It’s a bit like Katabuchi, I met both of them before so the urgency is less about attending their programing, over the people I didn’t. It’s times like this that makes me feel a weekend for Otakon is just too short.

The Baltimore Ravens and SF Giants play a pre-season game on Thursday. I know one guy who’s going to see it. I also know I will do my best to avoid all that traffic. Sport-wise, the St. Louis Cardinals are in town Friday to Sunday for a series with the Os. STL fans travel well, but probably not in large droves as Yankees fans do for Baltimore. Both the Cards and Os are (birds, and) doing well so it should be a fun inter-league match.

I totally don’t have the CIA guys on my radar, but it would be nice to say hello to them.

There will be a Real Escape Game event at Otakon. I would like to try it, actually, but who knows if timing would work. Presumably you just sign up for a session?

Peelander-Z will be at the Otakon Matsuri. That’s a free show on Thursday.

Aniplex has a Game Show… And they’re giving away some freebie at Hayamin’s panel. Usually Aniplex guests will do an autograph session for their booth, but it doesn’t sound like that’s happening. Well, who knows.

ALTIMA has only one full studio album on their discography, so it’s easy to guess what they will perform at the show. It probably won’t be too far from what they did in Europe. The question is which songs they will cover, and if we’ll get lucky with any of Maon’s (or even motsu or Sats’s) discography. I’m okay with the KOTOKO songs Sats wrote, if they choose to do those.

A particular P is trying to get a bunch of notes for Hayamin. Not sure how he will collect it but it will make a nice memento, I hope.

Meanwhile I still can’t quite find my copy of Love Plus+, so I can’t import my latest save…don’t really want to start over. I’ll probably still get my game box signed, though. I have all those.

I hope I can wrap up all that I have to do before I take off, and that looks to be a list that gets long each time I glance at it. Sigh.

Otakon is doing info desk duty using social media this year–there’s a SMS line, twitter and a ticketing system?

So, as you can see, even in such a laid back Otakon schedule-wise in terms of priority, it’s still conflict hell full of strife and programing inefficiencies.