Category Archives: Franchises

Seize the Moment

I want to talk about ARIA and CLANNAD a bit. These two titles form the basis of some kind of similarity, a thread, that connects a mentality and a vision and a group of fans who today identify with the type of works like ARIA and CLANNAD and Yokohama Shopping Log and Haibane Renmei and the like. These past-decade gems have their share of fans, pure and simple, but they weave that staple kuukikei emotional fabric that many other shows followed on.

I think that’s kind of what I took away from reading this interview of fhana. These guys are music nerds, sure, but like their music they themselves are creatively captured by the ideas in which weaves those works together. Now they do the same through their anison-inspired, aural canvas.

The image I feel the most connected to when I listen to fhana is actually an 2010s work, albeit barely: Sora no Woto . Debuted in January of 2010, its bright hillsides, rustic landscapes and Iberian motifs colored not just what we saw on the screen but the inclination of our hearts, that helped those who followed the story to its bittersweet conclusion. It’s that full-blast vocal of towana, the closed voicing, the genre fusion in which typified late-night era anison in which evoked those feelings via fhana’s offering today. Click on the link up there to get a sample of what I mean.

Below, on the flip side, is fhana’s latest music video promoting their new album. I think that’s a good example by itself.

Anzu the Healer

A popular portrayal of state manipulation of a populace is a quote from the movie Gladiator, where some Greek dudes say something about giving the people something or another. Well, that’s made-up ancient history.

Looking at the other direction, the future of Japan is not the brightest in some ways. This week some rich Japanese guy said they’re turning to robots and immigrants to support its rapidly aging population. It already is the oldest population in the world. If children are our future, well, then Japan doesn’t have too many to count on, per capita.

Can robot hotel bellhop keep my bags after I check out?

I want to point out these two ingredients: generational pressure as a structural stress in the lost gen Japanese (and their subsequents) and the simple fact that people crave entertainment when in these uncertain times. There is probably some academic term that describes the condition these cultural forces create, not unlike how cold Canadian air and jet stream moisture from the west cause a Nor’easter during the cold months of the year in the US Northeast. Please enlighten me if you know what it is.

Futaba Anzu

The term I have for Anzu, though, is a pressure release valve. Academics have long coined Japanese subcultural trends and identity politics in these ways. Sure, cartoon idols (or real ones, for that matter) are a significant improvement over slaves and indentured servants fighting for the death for the public’s amusement, as far as civility goes, but both can effectively diffuse tension.

As entitled as kids and young adults may seem from the eyes of the older generation, it is not a bad place to begin. Rights only exists when they are recognized. To recognize rights, you need to know about them first. And before we know, we have to learn. When you already are entitled to such, it is natural to demand it, regardless if privileges or rights may make a better label to the things Anzu demands (casually).

Of course, in another sense, Anzu’s demands is satirical. If we compare her to another comrade’s idol persona, Uesaka Sumire’s act doesn’t even “go there” really, as it is more Russophilia than it is Leftist.  Nonetheless these acts taps lightly on our ingrained, post-Cold War subconscious and remind us that in an increasingly individualized society, shared rights still exist. Together we are strong. Even if today such strong sense of unity that our fathers or grandfathers have is becoming a thing of the past, from lifetime employment to strong union protections.

And in a funny way that links right into 団結, which is one of the core tenets of IM@S thematically. Danketsu, as the term goes, makes that cultural ideal contextualized that fits the cultural norm of today’s society where people work together, even if they may be competitors. It’s really an oddish concept to just call it “Unity” as translations go, but such is the careful duality of the world IM@S portrays. I think it’s more like the “collaboration” strategy in a conflict resolution setting (as opposed to say, zero-sum competition or compromise), in which in a pop-culturally accepted, ideal communist world, the whole is greater than the sum of their parts, and despite our lazy selves, we work hard.

That’s why Anzu is best idol, right?

[I wish there was some English-language media study available regarding anime and games of the 2000s, because that was certainly a trend, these otaku-rehabilitating stuff. It would be interesting to read on how these works tried to achieve these goals.]

The joke aside, I think that by channeling to these subconscious stresses and fears and a way to address them in a pop culturally sensitive way, Anzu as a concept can be attractive.

It makes you wonder what is inside Kirari, too.

Decontextualized Free-to-Play Game Adaptations

I read this and I feel it is a good summary of the IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls anime in general. I’m sure it’s not context-free, enough dropped about card art and the unrepresented mass of CG idols. Enough is dropped about 765pro brand of IM@S. But Mikunyan’s position? Otou drops the ball there, even if it’s not all his fault.

[Recall episode one when Uzuki was waiting on P to get started? Imagine that but way worse for Miku and company. Then the newcomers who has been here for way shorter time than you debut before you. I didn’t even watch AKB0048!]

I want to talk about Kancolle. It’s pretty solid as far as what it is. It faces the same problem Deremas does, except when you run with a bunch of shipgirls there’s no cohesive mesh naturally to rope everybody together. In the mix you have the para-military context, a school context, and the cohabiting dorm stuff. Then they let the character development happen “naturally.”

I put that word in quotes because there’s nothing natural about Kancolle, for crying out loud. For someone who has not bought into the conceit it’s rather difficult to put myself into the same place with the same point of view. How do I empathize with Fubuki? Okay, you can establish her character and drop her in a somewhat less harmonious environment and let her (and the rest of us) sink or swim. But is that really enjoyable? If my twitter was not full of people tweeting Kancolle every wednesday I probably would not have enough motivation to summon enough willpower to watch each week. So Ts, good job tweeting spoilers.

It’s kind of like the type of viewers who are in Derem@s anime for Shiburin. Or Kongou. I’m okay with this, but that alone is not enough. I think in Deremas’s case there is a lot to be said that the system, as in the new content provided by the anime, can be interesting to watch. It’s a bit like the transformation sequence of girls to shipgirls, which has been doled out to we viewers in small doses. In Deremas, it’s a production agency, the way the idol biz works in that setting, and how that mirrors real life. My personal issue with Kancolle is that there’s nothing real life about Kancolle, for better or worse.

At the same time I think those two are good prima facie examples of the the series from a character point of view. Kongou is fun and off the wall, but totally a character and not really someone who has strong attachment to human realism. She’s a classic post-modern otaku character, a certifiable descendant of Dejiko. Shibuya Rin, on the other hand, is a much more traditional with typical character development behind her. It’s part of Derem@s anime’s mission to reconstruct these archetypes into well-constituted characters, after all, even if in Kancolle that is also what they want.

But in that sense both anime are very stereotypical of the Madoka-era pretty-girl anime paradigm. It’s about the girls’ feelings. That’s the one truth in Kancolle. That is the appealing point in Cinderella Girls. But that alone is not enough if you don’t have all the context. And if you don’t have the context, you are just functioning on animal instincts, motivations and impulses. In Kancolle’s case I don’t even think a lot of people want to get the context, IYKWIM.

German Engineering

Cinderella Girls 04

Natsunee's Miku is great, busting her chops on this

This week’s episode… I guess I still can’t enjoy this anime for what it is, even if I do enjoy it for what it is. It’s just that there is more than what meets the eye.

I think let’s begin here. DiGiKerot spells out the basics well, and that’s where we have to start. What is up next is kind of the gap, lacking a better term, that ultimately describes a lot of these types of narratives.

The other starting point is Miku. Maekawa is a newbie idol working for 346Pro, looking to get her big break from the big idol production agency that she’s now a part of. The backstory that is yet present (but thoroughly hinted) in the anime is that she is pretty much a loner, and it plays out clearly between “cat” mode Miku and normal Miku. In the supplementary and manga material, Miku presents herself as a bookish, quiet if classy meganekko in her high school environs. She spends a lot of her time reading, aside from work and work-related activities, such as brushing up on things she needs to prepare for a job or for practice.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she’s a bit of a focus character in the past two episodes, just sort of painting some kind of background or basic level of where things are at for the Cinderella Project. As much as she’s neglected, the sakuga gods were kind on our senior cat girl, so it likely means something. Especially since she is probably the one character whose idol persona is the most clearly delineated from her normal persona in this grouping.

It’s easy to map this sort of an idea for idols as thematically similar to the concept of honne and tatemae? But it’s closer to what makes one’s professional persona versus who they really are. It’s less a facade and more a makeup. Or in Shirobako’s terms, armor. The difference here is that by default, idols are professional personas. That’s the tool or lens I’m using to look at this week’s episode of Cinderella Girls the Anime.

It is no coincidence that we’re seeing the story through some actual lens, of a camera. This is the gap in which an idol behaves professionally towards the persona, the product, they create as a part of their profession, versus the professional attitudes they extend to their coworkers. Which is also different than their innate feelings and inclinations and how that play a role in creating all of their secondary attributes, personalities. Putting these idols in front of an audience or a lens, it allows the story to make those the differences in three levels of abstraction.

And it’s necessary. I think the girls of IDOLM@STER all began as girls in front of cameras. And it’s the most terrible type of cameras that I know: video game characters from arcade machines or mobile games. They don’t get rich character development arcs; they get a fraction of your attention as you put in money or time in small increments (which is a major thing in light of the hardcore dedication of our early day Producers). It’s literally a few pictures and some voiced lines. The anime and manga take things to the next step and paint them as girls in front of cameras of a reality TV show. To that extent, we can enjoy the full experience of what it means to be an idol in the post-AKB48 world. To that extent, we can stick to canon and cast the anchors of character development without rocking the boat. This added dimension only has space to grow if we extrapolate from the TV screen.

And to that extent, character development has to go on in this way. Thankfully because this is an anime about idols, and idols being who they are, you can literally give Shiburin a camera and tell her to film something, and actually sell a video of what Shiburin did with that camera.

Deremas DVD photoshoots

Deremas DVD photoshoots

Watching Ohashi being the subject of this gag exercise, it feels strongly resonant of a certain Sabagebu episode.

That sidebar aside, there is also another purpose behind the camera-in-a-camera approach, and that is to frame not only the appeal, but the visualization of the appeal. By appeal I mean it in the English-taken-into-Japanese sense, that these idols are trying to make some attractive persuasive video clips for us.

I think this is where Toshifumi Akai flexed his MD elbows. It’s not solo episode for this A-1 animator but this Producer did basically owned it, taking care of all the direction and storyboarding, plus being the animation director. And it shows, with the same level of details as the prior episodes, from the escalation to the interplay between Miria and Rika, from AnKira’s stiffy jokes to even the awkward moment with Rina. I guess after talking to him at Sakuracon last year about IM@S I just have an added appreciation of his work in this specific context.

Which is also something to think about when Kirari did her candy spray. The camera went bonkers on that shot, which is just another way of saying that this particular idol don’t fit within the typical screens of your PR machines? Your interpretation is as good as mine.

Young Animators’ Death Games

I googled this

I don’t know if it was a mistake, but I watched Death Billiards and Death Parade episode 1 back to back.

It’s a little bit cathartic in that sometimes a TV series just highlight what’s sad about anime as a narrative format. In the government-grant-funded one-shot, everything is put together in a way that needs no additional explanation. In the TV series so many of the things I liked about the one-shot are missing. In its place is lower-quality animation and slower pacing to suit.

At the same time, I know all of it before I even started watching these two things. I knew the compromises it has to make to stretch a concept 12 times longer. I knew it has to hold some cards back in the hand. But unfortunately many of those things Death Parade is holding back are the things I like about it. The receptionist with an attitude, the dry humor, the funky high speed cuts, the glossier look to life (or after life or whatever)?

Stripping away most of the things I liked from Death Billiards is a good way to show me what lies underneath all of it, and it’s not encouraging. Basically it’s some random unexpected competition that make people express their inner, hidden feelings and ends with a twist as people relive and gain catharsis over their final moments of death. I think that part of the show is solid, but isn’t it just kind of lame without all the trimming?

I don’t know if the strings-attached funds behind Death Billiards mattered, in that some things they could or could not do with Death Parade. Reusing its footage, for example.

The silver lining in all of this is that there will be a lot about Death Parade left to watch that nobody knows about since it has to depart from the initial head-trick of the first episode. At the same time, they can screw it up. I don’t want more Hell Girl. Anything but that please.

PS. Yeah dancing dancing don’t stop that dancing.