Monthly Archives: October 2011

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.


A Certain Group-Thinking Hivemind

I don’t know what sort of complex or societal system that builds up the typical love-hate reaction on Guilty Crown. It’s kind of like the stereotypical complaints hurled at a show nobody likes because it hypes too much and panders too hard: generic, cliché characters with stereotypical and predictable waffing, with just enough angst and fanservice to tick all those check boxes. At least I haven’t heard a “designed by committee” complaint yet.

I really don’t think Guilty Crown has much if any of those things. It’s only problematic in conforming to what used to work for hit action anime and game titles. Well, what used to work may still work, I guess. I also thought if the first two episodes were taken wholly, it might had been significantly more enjoyable and more effective as a pilot episode.

To me, those complaints are what is truly cliché. The industrial nature of GC’s production is unavoidable and frankly, refreshingly obvious. We like shows like Ghost in the Shell, after all. We like those fancy costumes, showing us the gap between a man’s heart and a man’s desire. I think. Same with the writhing song bird showing equal parts skin and vocal prowess. Others have fancier words for it. That the show takes place between this weirdly hybrid world of underground terrorism and campus life, with a protagonist torn between the two worlds, is merely common and been-done. But that is not valid ground to single GC out for something anime has always been doing for the past 20+ years.

More pertinently, I believe the tepidly ill opinions towards Guilty Crown’s characterization and plot elements are not misguided, just misplaced or imprecise. It’s with that sense of irony in which I think there has to be a better, less-of-a-cliché way to state these complaints. Because then it can truly address that familiar and diverging emotion which makes shows like Gundam SEED Destiny best sellers, or why I watched Guilty Crown episodes 1 and 2 multiple times. More importantly, there are clearly things the show is doing right beyond the visuals, direction and music. As much as we may find the writing campy or been-done, there is still something to the characterization and the way the characters compose themselves which make it dramatic and interesting.

It’s sort of like how people grow out of Final Fantasy 7? What was amusing in 1997 is no longer in 2011; that is par for the course. But unlike Square’s blockbuster PlayStation game, Guilty Crown is fun to watch even by 2011 standards–to its credit, that’s proof enough that it has improved on the formula that has existed for over ten years, or at least since Code Geass. But for some reason I’m sitting here and wondering how many people probably tempered their enjoyment of the show because they would rather be less honest about their feeling as a result of this sort of cliche armchair criticism reflex. (And in the meta, how many people enjoy watching this tsundere reaction playing out?)


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.


Criticizing Cons: Not “Why” But “Who”

JP sums it up. But I think there are a few things that need to be couched in the right contexts.

Let’s do the refrain:

[#1] interaction with pros,

[#2] procuring goods,

[#3] gaining new information, and

[#4] interacting with fellow fans.

JP explains further how anime cons don’t quite meet his needs for #1-3, and I can see that to a degree. Again, the context is kind of off.

First of all, “anime cons in general” are not Otakon or Anime Boston or even PMX or The Chase Wang Spam Con (aka AM2) (It’s a dumb joke by the way). It’s your garden variety vendor show. It’s the cons in Florida that you hear people tweet about but nobody ever goes to unless you are already local. You go those cons to meet up with other locals and buy crap (#2 and #4) because it’s easier to buy IRL than over a URL. There are like, almost a con a week in North America alone. But maybe this is kind of a hit and miss thing.

Second, let’s look at the actual criticisms of anime cons in JP’s post.

#1. I basically go to cons largely for access. My raison d’etre, as they say, when it comes to cons. The fact that I actually go to cons makes the criticism not particularly poignant. Even at NYAF (well ok NYCC) I was able to score this. Access! You get the idea. I can crack jokes about “splash” or “Ask [insert person] to draw Anaru” because of my chances at interacting with pros. Interacting with Takaaki Suzuki was great at this past AX. Listening to Shinkai talk at Otakon was insightful. Seeing IwakamiP being true to his word gives me hope for the future. [As an aside I think everything he said about Madoka and Fate Zero during his Otakon panel came true, right?]

But JP is right in that if you didn’t care for anything like “the industry” or “character designers” or “mechamusume” or “yaoi” or “weeaboo merchandising” any of the sub-section of anime fandom represented at the con, you probably wouldn’t care. There’s something also to be said that I don’t go to many cons, like this year’s AnimeNext, which is like minutes away from where I live. And AnimeNext is a top-ten anime con this year I think, in terms of population.

Interaction with pros is something that anime cons bring at various levels. But it’s good to take a bigger perspective and realize that compared to Japan, US fans are context-poor and starved of interaction. Not everyone is a Halko Momoi. Not everyone cares for dub actors (but I guess a lot of people do). Anime cons bring us a little bit of that interaction, but it’s like what you can get if you just buy this month’s Newtype or Seigura or something, for example. Heck, US-based dub actors have no commercial press out there to publish their dealies! No exposure besides what ANN picks up, really. That’s not all there is to interacting with pros at cons, but even with the internet helping out, there’s a sizable gap between what hardcore fans over in Japan knows versus what fans in the US knows.

With that said, the main thrust behind JP’s argument on this point is perhaps the realization of how even for the top-attended anime cons in the US, most people don’t care too much about creator access in this sense. Just go to Otakon forums and talk about Japanese GOH panels and their attendance. It’s kind of sad coming from a certain perspective to see a fan panel getting more attendance than some creator’s GOH panel, when that creator makes the anime that fan panel is about in the first place.

I can probably write a post or three on just point #1, so let me just wrap it up now and say that at AX this year, there were a lot of Japanese otaku doing the same things I was doing. Because they were able to interact with some of these pro guests in ways impossible in Japan.

#2. Likewise, most people at any con don’t blow their wads at the charity auction. In 2011, no thanks to the tragedy in Tohoku, that was the #1 place where you could have spend and bought some seriously awesome stuff. That was just an observation but let me get that out of the way.

Anime Expo’s dealer room was also a solid place to pick up stuff. Vendors like MangaGamer had some really cool stuff that it would take a ton of effort (and additional costs) to buy if you wanted to proxy them. Specialty Japanese vendors occasionally appear at the bigger cons. I’ve spotted Cospa at least a couple times over here on the East coast, for example, and just by bringing over a fraction of their wares you’ll likely see something you want to buy that you didn’t know even exists.

And then there’s the more R1-centric type swag that’s worth less. I have a Madoka charity poster that you can’t get anywhere, for example. Funimation offers a whole lines of trinkets and t-shirts that you can only get at a con (I still want that Eden of the East t-shirt they were giving out last year). It’s a very different mode of buy-and-sell, very different than the horde of neckbeard dudes flipping their comic books on eBay or whatever that you can see at NYCC, but I’m at a place in my collector’s life where I’m seeing a lot of stuff in my collection that you can’t just walk in a store (online or otherwise) and buy. At least not easily. The biggest anime cons in the US offers at least something to check out in their vendor halls, imported or domestic. The examples are numerous, but I think the truth here is that most of that money is out of marketing, not because there is a secondary economy healthy enough to support it (well the RULERS OF TIME may have something to say about it). This is drastically different than what goes on in Japan.

As to buying crap, while the internet basically renders a lot of this a moot point, there’s still something to be said of having the physical shopping experience. On top of that certain goods are just better purchased in person (posters, figures, etc). I think we can safely say that buying stuff hasn’t changed that much in terms of mode, for any con versus what you can get online. That’s why there’s still shows and cons packed with small vendors, for video games, comics, TCGs, anime things, books, whatever. People still go to them to shop. As fans in a first world nation, ultimately that is a core competency.

#3. God bless bayoab. This kind of blurs into the point about access, but that’s kind of true–you get better news from people reporting at the con than being at the con. I suppose that is also why now I play with a press badge. Anyways, all of that just points to the fact that cons have new info. I’ve had a dig or two, but that’s more something unique to the circumstances and not because the general attendee had access to that information.

To sum it up: cons are big marketing pushes even for anime companies. But it is only the larger cons where that is true. NYCC is one of them. Perhaps the anime con circuit is too centralized (or not amorphous enough?) and it will miss a large parts of the megacon audience.

#4. Contrary to JP I think this point kind of is the least relevant to anime cons. As oppose to most people who do cons as a social event, I don’t, at least not primarily. The internet is a great way to talk to and socialize with other people, don’t you agree? But just like #2 and #3 I don’t think the internet replaces existing types of human interaction. It just supplements that.

Of course, it’s much more fun to do a con with a group of friends, and a con is always a great excuse to party, so those things happen. But in the proper “learn to offkai” mentality, I socialize to socialize. If it happens at a con, great, but that’s not why I’m there in the first place.

To wrap this up, I think I agree with JP here:

You can’t apply the megacon style to an anime con, and anime cons are too amorphous and unfocused for the megacon attendees.

But that has more to do with the people going to anime cons than how anime cons are run. Considering attendance, Otakon and AX are proper megacons. It’s just that unless you are a weeaboo, you wouldn’t get much out of the programming at those cons. I would even go further to say that AX and Otakon’s attendees are too amorphous already. To give an example, looking at the guest requests threads at those two con’s forums, you’ll get requests of things that are just “geek” and not even anime related. And that is more and better representation than even some of the most popular anime-related people in Japan. [Every con should request Yamakan btw.]

So there you have it. I mean just think about it a little–no anime con has proper 4chan programming (other than Otakon for a few years) but every major anime con is a internet meme con, why is this? It’s because the people who go to anime cons are largely internet … people. I think Intel and MLG might get better reception if they target those events than mainstream cons! I mean, LOL.


Slip And Slide into Fall

This year has been good for anime. I’ve watched probably more this year than last year, despite having even less free time. There is something compelling that drives me to watch anime almost everyday. It’s almost like a personality flaw. Or maybe I use it as a proper escapist device, to kick back and relax to after a long day.

But I think the more I try to do it, the less I actually do. I’ve noticed that in the past year I have more and more shows in which I follow up to episode 10 or 11, only to left unfinished. Part of it speaks to how compelling some anime really are–that they aren’t. The real cause, I wager, is because that is when all the new shows come out, so older and less exciting fare gets edged out by newer unknown shows. New stuff is more exciting than old stuff, usually, because you don’t know what you’re going to get.

So maybe I should just drop more stuff, and if I want to scratch a particular itch, I will have that option to watch those shows later. Or just take a real break proper-like. It’s not certain that I may watch fewer shows this way. I think being relaxed and fresh-minded makes watching stuff more enjoyable, and I may find more enjoyable shows to watch as a result.

It’s with that realization that I tackle this autumn’s offering. I think a couple shows made it to the short list of truly compelling fare: Fate Zero and Ben-to. Seriously. I mean if you take a big picture view, there are only so many good genre offerings among all genres, and then the types that aspire to be more. Fate Zero definitely tries to be more than just a light novel adaptation–it feels like a proper novel adaptation, if such a distinction can be reasoned with. Regardless of what, it gets me honestly excited every Saturday morning. That is already a feat and by that alone, praiseworthy.

Ben-to is not exactly a rare offering, but it’s infrequent enough and long enough since Air Master that we are getting something that possibly may be worth the while. As long as it has enough guts and burning spirit and whack, I suppose. Style is ultimately what makes cool things timelessly aspirational and engaging. It doesn’t have to be slick, but it does have to be intense. Ben-to manages at least some of that. I think David Pro is consistent in this one regard–there’s something intense about their animation.

Guilty Crown manages to just fall short of that list with its pilot episode, but there are reasons to expect that it will move into that list if it can continue to provide the same production value we saw last week. In a way Guilty Crown just uses the same formula we are all too familiar with from the turn of the century, but dialed it down a little. The production…well, is quality stuff.

Oh, did I ever tell you I love angsty hot 2D chixorz?

I don’t think we have a really good moe show this season, although you might get something between C3, Horizon, Majikoi and Haganai. I like how all four approach things from the comedy side, but only Majikoi and Haganai pile it on. C3, or rather , gets a little bit of credit for getting down to business earlier than the others, but it also feels like the show won’t get much further than this. Horizon’s got that good pilot IMO. That Mashiroiro Symphony show is not good, but it is the kind of moe show that corners a particular market segment and as such we have about one series like this every season.

I use the word “about” because Tamayura is kind of the other entry to that genre, or rather, it is also a genre unto its own–Hidasketch, Croisée, whatever. To be honest the music is the only attractive thing about the show so far, so I might just take it that far only. Case in point: I haven’t watched the last episode of Croisée, and I’m not sure if there is a reason as to why I ought to; the soundtrack is delightful though. I went in Croisée thinking it might actually be kind of intriguing, but that didn’t quite work out. Tamayura is probably even less of a hopeful bet.

Likewise, shows like Maken-ki and Kimi to Boku can thankfully be dismissed quickly. Again, not a knock against them, but I just can’t spare the attention. The subject matter seems a little too out of my comfort zone, although one is a school comedy with hijinks and there is fanservice. Or is it both? I don’t know, they have to execute better.

The slightly more-accessible crowd this season includes very-unaccessible Chihayafuru, moderately-accessible Phi-Brain, Gundam AGE, and Un-go. Un-go is surprisingly better than expected–I suppose that is a noitaminA show for you. Gundam AGE is about as good as expected, which is really good, I think. In a good season I might watch all of them, but I may just stick to one or two here. Chihayafuru has the advantage of having an attractive protagonist, but I’m not sure if that gets the show anywhere. Plus, Hikaru no Go has done it better. So the jury’s out on those.

I kind of enjoyed Mirai Nikki, but it isn’t the sort of show I can take seriously, and without the shock and awe factor it wouldn’t be a compelling watch. I don’t know, it isn’t a knock against the material, it’s solid stuff. I just don’t like the way it has been adopted, and I haven’t even read the manga!

I think this is why I don’t want to watch the Persona 4 anime. I would have to play the game first to really get something out of it, but that seems pretty much an impossibility in terms of time. Ah well. I have a copy from way back, it’s just sitting on a shelf eating dust.

And given the large pile of sequels to deal with this season, there’s not a lot to say in terms of how they are notable beyond that they are sequels of things I’m watching. I guess Working season 2 actually offers something slightly different? Does it even matter? I don’t think so.

Speaking of sequels, I don’t really want to talk about the new Last Exile because my mind is not made up on it. There are a lot to like about the show, but invariably we have to compare it to its first series. That makes things more complicated. I would render an opinion without the baggage, but it’s still too early to say.

Besides the few stragglers that I leave out every season, it’s a fairly neat wrap for a relatively “down” time compared to Spring and Summer ’11. But with this many sequels and 2-cour shows, does it even matter? 2011 still is shaping up to be one good year for TV anime. Now I just need to get my butt to a screening of Letter to Momo!