Under the Dogfluence

This girl is throwing money at us, right?

One of the PR points repeated in the Under the Dog crowdfunding campaign (disclosure: I backed it) is that these creators struggle with production committees not taking a stab at the global audience, and instead are inwardly focused on the domestic, “moe” crowd. This sounds okay to me, but it also sounds like a truism and misses the point.

I am all for addressing that risk-averseness and the tendency for these funding committees to ride that bicycle, so to speak, that there is no gain if no risk is taken. However I think poorly of the “targeting oversea audience” bit. It basically comes down to how we define anime and why we like it.

In some sense, I work on the assumption that ultimately Japanese fans like a lot of the stuff oversea fans like. There is a huge common ground. The question is more so, how do we tap the wallets of these people, who are probably not going to dole out $$$ to buy a standee, or whatever iconic act of being able to gravy-train a vertical.

In that sense, it’s putting the money before the product. A more natural perspective is how do we enable the creation of “marketed animation projects” in which delight fans per se, but are outside the influence of that creative committee? By “marketed animation projects” I mean distinctly something that’s not like the pioneering crowdfunded project, Kick-Heart.

Kick-Heart (disclaimer: I backed it) is a cool art short (15 minutes) by Masaaki Yuasa and given the amount of work that went into it, I think it’s a fair trade. In this sense we are engaging the production of animation in a pure way: backers pay and get what they paid for. We are literally buying anime. You are not even buying an ad that’s made to sell what it adopted from, let alone buying into some long-term arrangement (eg., being a P, or something about identity politics, whatever) that is more like a relationship than a simple purchase. I’m not sure anyone who isn’t into arthouse-type animations will pay into Yuasa’s kickstarter in a significant way. That’s not to mention, if you will recall, the whole significance of Kick-Heart Kickstarter about funding independence and giving animators good enough pay. It never was clear if crowdfunding can be a solution to those issues then, and even today, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. The problem with that is, to me, that becomes a false motive in terms of why a rational entity will put money behind a crowdfunding effort, once the rhetorics and sense of bandwagoning fade away. In other words, it is all idealism, not really something backed by a matter of practical proof.

Of course, I do hope that there are enough of us out there that would gladly fund a lot of anime, over time, via crowdfunding. I just think the four that I’ve backed (Santa Company, LWA2, UTD, and KH; and they’re different from localization projects like BGC, Mai Mai Miracle, Time of Eve, etc.) only indicate that there’s money there. And it’s probably one reason why (of many) Japan hasn’t gone ahead with a more land-grab style production en mass on Kickstarter. It’s a legitimate concern as to how much money per period of time that the crowdfunding community can support in terms of anime productions. After all, anime is kind of expensive to make well. Given the cost of failure on a crowdfunding project (which probably deserve more study from a bizdev point of view), is it worth the while to have more animators pitch on Kickstarter? It’s a real question that we need answers to before we can answer questions that Hiroaki Yura kind of parried about how crowdfunding is an alternative to committees.

Which is to say, UTD is not any of this. To me, UTD wants to create something cool, and the anime is just a vehicle. What I like about their PR, despite their aging assumption on anime fans and fansubs, is that they clearly just wanted to do this anime in ways they exactly wanted. I’m not going to ever disagree with that being a good reason to head to the crowdfunding market. But that implies some things. For example, most likely Ishii has already pitched the idea at some point and he wasn’t happy with the changes. The question is then, why did they wanted to do it? Because, if you’ve read their sales pitch, is because the creative team behind UTD believes in Ishii’s script and ideas, and want to turn it into something. And I’m not sure they can deliver, because that something is not just an anime.

I think here are some questions people should ask:

1. Why anime? And not, say, a video game? This struck me the most relevant after thinking it through. And the answer, as far as I can gather from reading the various AMA or KS updates or Otakon reports, is because some of the creative people wanted to do an anime because of prior experiences, relationships and situations. To that I think it’s great, but also it reflects sort of on the nature of the production. In Ando’s capacity, anime is probably the best format, and I expect that group to hand in some quality work–maybe not GITS movies level but certainly very good. But when you commit to release an OVA, you are kind of committing to a certain release format (Short Piece aside, I guess), a certain way of funding it, and a certain way of marketing it. This changes dramatically once you want to release a PS4 game, or a live action movie, and it can actually address some of their concerns from the funding point of view.

2. Why the assumption that there are enough people out there that would enjoy a 1997-style, GITS/Akira-influenced story? Those are successful anime franchises that failed to monetize in a big way in recent years. Does UTD address this concern? I mean if you are any kind of an old aniota over in the west, you might remember the large number of failed western-targeting anime works that dotted the 90s? Do we really want another Armitage or Appleseed? Do we even want to cater to fans who like Armitage and Appleseed today?  [Bonus: Do we even want to cater to fans who liked Sword of the Stranger? It's a great movie that gained little traction in the USA.]

[Okay, I guess we can even go a step further and talk about making anime on nostalgia and is it really a good idea rather than spend that energy to make something newer, but I don't think we're far enough to make a claim like that.]

3. How are they going to market it? Without the help of production companies how can you reach the not-hardcore, or fallen-out fans who might actually enjoy UTD more than fans who like modern stuff in the post-moe period?

4. What if UTD sucksis not so good? This is the kind of concern that SC, LWA and KH are immune to. The fact that Yuasa is making an anime is already going to bring a smile to my face; even if he drew stick figures it’ll turn out awesome, because the guy is a freaking genius and we measure the output of his work on its merit (ie., Art House vs. Hollywood). LWA episode 1 is “young animators” and there’s no way LWA episode 2 is going to be worse as that limitation is gone. And at worst it’s not going to be worse than Kill la Kill as far as an animation vehicle, so that’s a baseline guarantee because of what we know about Trigger as a 100% Trigger production. In KH and LWA the backers are literally buying animation for animation’s sake. UTD strikes me more like “hey Ishii has a cool idea/script and these pro animators want to do it, let’s let them.” which is perfectly okay but it really requires a lot of faith. CANAAN comes to mind. And that’s sort of the ironic complication about UTD–part of it is about the hype, but the hype works against the clarity to ascertain the quality of the production. In other words, if Yura and company took the money and created something nobody liked, they still have to be okay with it. We have to be okay with it, even if that’s not what they’re selling anymore. Is this true?

I don’t want to come away being negative, and there’s a good reason not to be. UTD is actually the kind of anime kickstarter that is more anime than most. By that I mean the UTD crowdfunding addresses directly the problem about making “anime” as we know it. LWA and Kick-Heart, to me, is not what people think when they think about anime. It’s not televised and it’s not a marketing campaign to sell crap. That UTD kind of wants to not be such a thing but is kind of asking people to fund it so it can behave similarly is a direct challenge to that committee-based production model. This is the real crowdfunding anime against the machine, guys.

PS. What if Santa Company tanks? Answer: It is impossible. Santa Company is an anime about kids and Santa Claus, it’s a bulletproof concept like cute babies or weird Japanese animal mascots. And maybe that’s a more honest approach: the buzz words used for UTD triggers. As an anime fan who’s been around since Akira, I lost track how many crap shows tried to use that moniker to sell itself over the 25+ years since. I’m not so sure those marketing terms are any good; actually the fact that anime fandom in the west are still stuck on it is a troubling sign. And to be less unfair, that includes fans who tried to describe shows using that word, or just because a certain staff worked on Akira or Evangelion or Bebop or whatever popular works these animators have connections to. Calling me a skeptic is a truism, and it’s important to see UTD for what it is. Thankfully it’s nothing that terrible.

PPS: Kickstarter for UTD, ANNCast, Live Stream, Reddit AMA, Otakon stuffs?

PPPS: Here’s something fundamental about the way I see anime. On this blog, I tag my anime as categories and via WordPress, I use a parent category to track all these names for shows. The parent category is called “Franchises.” I realize this is not how most people look at anime, but somebody’s got to do it. I like, and it tickles, that UTD’s marketing bucks my way of doing things from the get go.

Who Do You Hate in Love Live?

I actually like everybody.

cotoli minami

But I understand the role in viewer antagonism. After all love and hate are related emotional responses that require a high amount of engagement. It’s a lot more telling that I am merely “like” and not “love”–a form of affirming indifference. Arisa was my MVP from season one, and at the least I’m glad season two tried hard to develop the group. I mean after all not everyone in μ’s had spoken roles in every episode of the first season, and most of the non-second-years didn’t get their time in the spotlight.

Speaking as an unabashed Maki/Pile oshi-type, though, it’s characters like the moms, ARISE, or even the LLSIF normal students, that really rounds out Love Live as a franchise. It’s little things that helps Love Live gain fans. I really enjoyed Rin’s episode from season two, but I still still finding her largely indistinguishable from Hanayo; it was the episode and the way the story told itself that I loved, not as much everything else. Nico’s whole deal is a good twist on a welcomed trope in season 2, but as you can see I still can only pin it from that point of view, a meta analysis of tropes in a way to draw positives from the widest base. She deserves better, someone who likes her for who she is. “Washi Washi” is probably my favorite meme from the show, so that tells you how opposite I stand apart from Author on the haterade gulping, probably because it’s one of the more risque, and risky, things in the show. For something that goes out on a limb, Love Live takes a very solid, conservative approach to entertainment.

But thanks to that approach, many of the little jokes in Love Live are quite fun, even things that are just simple (if deep) character traits, like Hanayo’s love for rice. Just reading about how the Cotoli-face meme come about tells you just how precisely people mine this idol stuff. It’s a calculated payload with significant thought behind it. Love Live’s math is a little easier to understand from the outside, but it doesn’t make it any more or less appealing for people who enjoy it or find it repulsive, respectively.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I love the same things in IM@S and all those other idol shows. The Haruka-Chihaya ship and Yukiho’s shovel can go a long way to make some funny, and they remains one of the most memorable IM@S things I’ve seen even today. [But that doesn't go even half the distance to the goal, which is a story that I've documented on this blog well enough over the years, I hope.]

So yes, my two sides of a different coin are indifference and like. Love Live is fun and enjoyable, and I’m glad for it and how it engages even more people in a way that as a seiyuu idol fan, I would approve. I feel like this mutually beneficial relationship also is built on equal distrust in that we are engaging at length with media companies selling prepackaged feel-generators, at Japanese prices. At least, that’s sort of my base line approach to all of this. In that simple way, I am grateful for all that Love Live has done via the mobage and through both the fans and Lantis/Bandai/NISA/Bushiroad/whatever. You don’t have to pay a single yen to “enjoy” silly Chinese people kowtowing to dumb signs!

Las Vegas & Lantis Festival 2015

So this year is Lantis 15th Anniversary and in response they’re doing a series of festivals. These outdoor stages look like a page out of a typical Japanese music festival, gaudy metal frames hoist a platform above a grassy plane where fans stand or sit or jump under the sun (or rain as it has been a couple times). These 2-day festivals in Japan had pretty solid turnouts, and feature a long list of artists that kept the crowd going all day long. It’s not at the point where you have multiple stages (although I don’t see why not), but I think the idea can take a step that way shall they choose in the future.

What’s a little out of the box is that Lantis is also taking it overseas with stops in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Seoul, Singapore and Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a big deal because that location is so very different than the other ones. SG, TW, HK and Seoul are pretty solid places that has had big anison lives before. The USA in general, not so much, and definitely not Vegas. The best we’ve done here is a big con that drew a crowd, and that isn’t really going to work as a festival kind of way (other than the fact that cons are a type of festivals). I mean, to spell it out, the LV Lantis Fest will be two days and overlaps with Otakon Vegas (which I presumably is helping them out with the event in some way). Using a similar event as a measuring stick, if “Lantis Fest Protype” in the form of Otakon Music Fest was 3 guests (Jam Pro, Aso Natsuko and Faylan) does the West Coast discount really makes it a better show? How can you stretch it to two days? What kind of a line up can they offer?  It doesn’t matter a whole lot who comes over, as much as how many. You can take a look at the four Lantis Fests in 2014 and get a feeling what lineup they can bring. It’s almost a list of who’s-who of anison in the last 10 years.

Not that it matters, I’m committed to going already. Time to promote some concert I don’t have a stake in except being an anison eventer in the USA. See you there?

Meanwhile I’ll keep the worrying details to myself, LOL.

J-Music Canon

Kotori Otonashi, former idol

Japan Time’s article here, via the last bastion of non-anison that anison familiars can tap into.

Without a canon, Japanese pop won’t blast off

Really? I mean, really?

I think the point is well-made in the article, about there is not much of a canon visible outside of Japan. I don’t necessarily disagree with that exactly. It’s just that with or without canon, J-music can make way into the rest of the world given enough support. The problem is there isn’t much support in terms of music-as-is from the labels and even artists. It’s totally a galapagos syndrome thing. Japanese pop won’t blast off with or without canon because the industry just doesn’t really care about this side of the Pacific.

Canon is something fans and press and critics can debate with each other with. We’re just not at the point where fans can, partly because of the fragmented nature of J-music as a result of lacking that direct support over the years. So to me the complaint about context is a bit putting the cart in front of the horse.

That said, the use case we’re talking about–how does someone begin to explore Japanese music–is big enough of a problem, but organically I think most people would deal with it the same way as with any other scene. Start with the popular stuff, branch out and explore. Access (if you can get around the illegal stuff without issues) is better today than ever before. The notion that this day and age people read books and magazines to discover music is as ludicrous as ever, anyway, so I assume the average teen in the USA has as much problem finding “canon” in English-language scenes as a Japanese teen in Japan. Which is to say, I guess this is why idol music is really big there, huh.

Context, however, is something I really enjoy studying these days, and it’s the greatest enabler. So I can see how not having it is a big issue. But we all had to start fresh somewhere. J-pop is shallow enough and sufficiently per se enjoyable that as a sell to your average, newly cultured middle class of East Asia, it works. Anime is a common sell overseas, too, precisely because of context. So I don’t see canon as context as necessary at first. It’s just when you obtain it, the feels come. This is where I agree with the original article.

Do give j1’s list a read, it’s obviously as debatable as any other list but mine probably overlaps a good deal. [Mainly because mine is comparatively miniscule LOL.]

Argevollen’s Fog Episode

Obscure IM@S reference

When someone asks me for a bad anime, I probably won’t point to Argevollen. It’s not a good anime either, so I’m not sure where precisely it occupies in that continuum between remarkably bad anime and maybe even above average anime. Mediocre? Maybe just average?

Argevollen does provides entertainment with a target audience in mind, and it’s not quite the same core Japanese otaku demographic. Well, I mean, it is, but I think a lot of people enjoy a semi-mature story about this science fictional setting, steeped in the routine fares of war with Battletech-like robots. Speaking of real robots, this is probably the itch it scratches personally. [The show also prominently feature traditional tanks, so take that as you may.]

There is a recent episode where the merry band of protagonists resupply, repair and relax at a countryside village just behind the front lines. Think of a rural Japanese town with 5-story buildings and a shopping street, with the full conveniences of modern Japan. The antagonist faction makes a surprise advance on their village, and the troops hastily evacuates the village while repairing their precious prototype robot, making a last-second retreat across the single bridge connecting the village and the path away from the battle lines. In the first half of the episode, the protagonists visited and enjoyed a hot spring in town; in the second half, the battle in town took advantage of seasonal fog to make the retreat less deadly. It’s hard to explain how these two halves are connected by words alone, so here’s some fog.

Argevollen ep10

Argevollen ep10

It’s times likes this that when an otaku is being pandered to, I don’t really mind. Yeah, unfortunately this is partly because the show is not good, so you have to enjoy what you get, but given how Argevollen is distinctly not a fanservice vehicle of the stereotypical sense, the few scenes of female (and male?) nudity really stand out. What’s more, this sort of humor is baked into the show, not unlike how a rum cake has flavors of rum. How to acquire a taste for such humor is the least of Argevollen’s concerns, should anyone be concerned on how well received these kinds of late-night TV anime would be. I mean, I don’t even know why I appreciate dry, subtle but remarkably silly things like this. Perhaps this is just yet another example of how one can approach a show as it is and enjoy it, despite its lack of redeeming or remarkable qualities.