Category Archives: Franchises

Shirobako 02 Notes

I think the plan is I will do this on Jtor, but since I’m still working on the intro post let me jot down some notes here in the form of a blog post.

Couple items worth noting: 2ch tries to map the Musani staff to real life people, and for the most part it works. Then there’s this comment from another fellow seiyuu aficionado: “Hahahahahahaha damn if only the seiyuu were THAT pretty hahahha.”

What’s amusing is that while there’s this direct mapping between characters and real life individuals, when we go into “prpr mode” (for the lack of a better term) I think our way to judge stuff changes. In a nutshell, the anime/manga character style is a form of caricature. As a rule it’s not life-like in details. Shirobako applies already a pretty life-like approach to the character designs (in a way that is reminiscent of a lot of the prior PA Works shows) but I mean, just take a look.

Shirobako S2 via Conflag

Fellow koebutas can agree, I think, that Kayano has that puppy-looking eyes going, and for me they’ve really captured her visage by doing the eyes/bang layout right. Nakahara Mai, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult to capture using the anime/manga style because her distinguishing facial features are more the way her nose and facial bone structure are, giving her that sharp look. It’s hard to portray those things when most anime characters don’t even have a pronounced nose to speak of. On top of that, when you have kind of a late-night moe anime thing going on, Kayanon’s puffy cheeks are easy to reproduce relative to the more mature looks you get from Nakahara and Itou. That said, I think Itou Shizuka’s forehead/hair go a long way to represent her character in the anime, so that one was easy to pick out just at a glance, too.

I wonder if they took that into consideration when selecting the seiyuu they would mimic. I suppose there was a casting call for these three girls who had to voice as themselves and then voicing a character within the anime. If you think CV: Casting Voice is meta, Shirobako is one layer more!

As for the actual comment about pretty, let’s just say even accounting for the “3DPD factor” there are pretty anime characters and not-as-pretty anime characters. I think even in Shirobako you have that range of visual beauty–just look at our 5 protagonists. So no comment here about if not-Kayanon or not-Nakahara is prettier than their real life counterpart (uuuuh).

By the way, what Kayanon demonstrated in episode 2 was a page out of seiyuu school. If you listen to seiyuu radios it can be a treat. Like what Hayami Saori demonstrated at her Otakon panel, for example…

As for the episode proper, I loooove the way how the plan comes together and the way anime uses anime-only powers to demonstrate what it is really meant when Arupin has arrived. I loooove the way how they make Maruyama a bit like the patron saint of struggling TV anime productions. The way they add him during that meeting scene is both lovingly done and funny in the sense that they make clear he doesn’t really contribute in a tangible way. Can we have a Shirobako-type anime but instead produces a movie that takes 7 years to release? LOL.

PS. Onee-chan is Nu. But she doesn’t get an anime character cameo! WTB anime Nunu please (fat chance, I know).

Episode 02

PPS. Speaking of the ED animation (as last week’s ED is actually the OP animation), it’s done by the core team, directed by Mizushima.


The Memo That I Forgot to Write: The IDOLM@STER Movie: Beyond the Brilliant Future

Happy Birthday, Hibiki!

Fans write love letters to the creators of their favorite things. Creators write love letters to their fans. This is the IM@S movie in a nutshell. I feel that is the central concept behind everything related to the IM@S movie.

The IDOLM@STER Movie used to have this English subtitle, “To the other side of the sparkle,” which is a very literal translation of the “kagayaki no mugougawa e” tag line. Actually I’m not sure if it’s a subtitle or a tag line, although subtitle probably is the right term here. As you might think, this story is actually about one’s inner darkness and how to overcome it.

It’s not even that different than the two idol anime I enjoyed a long time ago: Perfect Blue and Key the Metal Idol. The whole idol biz, even from the 80s and 90s, were really about that gap between the sparking on-stage side and the internal strife side. I think this is why when an AKB48 shaved her head, it was a big shock. I mean, it’s just hair in the end, right?

To that end, Moviem@s (henceforth) nailed it. The bulk of the movie is actually a traditional idol story although the critique is as softly pitched as it gets. That’s okay, this is IM@S, not WUG. And because it’s cartoon, fat idol is a-okay too.

Oh, spoilers. [As if you can really spoil the movie.]

I thought this movie was long, and it still is long. I think it could have been much tighter and shorter, or much tighter, period. It’s really the main complaint that I’ve heard from everybody. The pacing is only a problem because there’s all this extra stuff that, IMO, ought to be cut. They should’ve done a director’s edition instead if they want to give us the better bang per buck, charging us like $110 for the entire proverbial enchilada. [That said, I hope someone re-encode a sub of the Shiny Festa OVAs.]

One “feature” (it’s not a bug, really) of the Moviem@s home video release is that it’s jam packed with goodies and omake material, both on-disc and off. The result is a package that’s over 3 pounds. It’s heavier than a 13″ MBA (2014). It means shipping it EMS costs like 6000+ yen. That blows major buttocks for us importers, but the goodies and omake material probably does make up for a lot of it–the 2nd coming of Ogi Star Memories, for example. As someone who has four copies of Shiny Festa, the OVA on blu-ray is a pithy consolation prize.

The only other issue I have (and it’s a good thing) with the physical release of Moviem@s so far (having not gotten my hands on it yet) is that the Aniplex+ special edition sure is OP. I half regret not ordering it and instead gunned for HMV’s. Partly because the cost between the two are not very big (HMV has a 20% discount, so that’s about 2000 yen difference) but that baller Starpiece Memories-themed box! It is so classy, Aniplex. Who does your packaging concepts?

I still want a Kido-chan cover of Jibun Rest@rt.

Maybe I’ll talk about my impression on the ML girls, now that I’ve fallen into that hole after first seeing the movie so many months ago. Let’s get it out there: my first impression of the ML girls (and partly why I fell into that hole) has a lot to do with the theater greetings I attended. During the intro and talk sessions, the voice actresses each pitched for their characters–so I got 7 ML character pitches essentially. Kana and Shiho get a pass, because in the show they’re fairly well-represented, even if Moviem@s Shiho is somewhat different than ML Shiho typically. Anna, in particular, gets the shaft, because she has this “on” mode where she’s super cute idol-chan, versus normal Anna. Moviem@s Anna is basically normal Anna the entire time. You can get an idea of Anna’s “on” mode if you watch Sora no Method, i think, as Nansu has a major role in which she plays a character with a disposition that equals to the average of the two Annas.

Nao is great–I love how Yuiton is literally her character. It’s like a teenage version of the real Yuiton. Mocho, on the other hand, plays the idol ideal version of her seiyuu idol persona. It’s a bit like how Takane is not like Harami, but Takane is a Harami ideal. It’s a hard analogy to get I guess, because Takane is not the sort of character that dotes over something easily. Serika, on the other hand, is all sorts of cute, much like Mocho is all sorts of cute–to the degree that not just fans like me, but even other IM@S casts, call Serika Mocho. They are however still quite different, in a way that Serika supports Mocho and vice versa. There’s a strange but uncanny combination going on between those two.

I sort of blanked on the others, and it’s sort of amazing that I even remember Nansu because she had a very ordinary but memorable introduction. Zekki was cute but it was a struggle for me to remember. Mikku…well, still to me is a Stylips first, Million Stars second. I don’t even remember her character (Yuriko) unless she talks in some way.

[In a way, which ML character stands out to me is probably not unlike which idol stands out in AKB for any one otaku. This is pretty amusing in retrospect.]

At any rate, that is part of the context that is missing from a normal consumption of Moviem@s. You guys didn’t go to a live show where M@sterpiece was the musical climax of a 5-hour-long 2.5D lovefest. There’s no fan events surrounding that stuff. I tip my hat to whatever promoted the IM@S event at AFASG, because that’s really the beginning.

Well, no, where I live, anime is the beginning. But anime can also be the end. Moviem@s happens to be both. It is entirely fair to judge this book by the cover, or go into the movie expecting what you typically expect from an idol anime. It’s also entirely a shallow read. If you liken a wickedly epic concert to a religious experience, then Moviem@s is the New Testament of that religion that’s called WE ARE M@STERPIECE and M@STERS OF IDOL WORLD. Does that make the criticisms on its superficial construction less valid? Not at all. It doesn’t engage the work completely, but that’s okay.

And maybe I’m 25% done with talking about Moviem@s? It has been a long time coming. This memo is never going to end.


Shirobako, Identity

When I was little, I was the type of kid who liked to ask why things are the way they are. Discovering what things were and how it worked was an amazing feeling when I was just a child. I wasn’t very handy, but I also liked reverse engineering things. I think I got that from my dad, who also did it habitually. The difference between me and perhaps someone who did took something apart and see how it worked was that I tried to model it in my mind and internalize how it works. To me, writing things down was symbolic, it was the act of putting some kind of physical representation down that reflected, expressed or symbolized something that was in my head. In that regard, I’m not too different today than so many decades ago.

Title

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The Idolm@ster Movie Is a Million Live Advertisement

Hey guys, I don’t know if you don’t know, but most anime are some form of advertisement. So why are you complaining about that Mlilion Live is being advertised in the Idolm@ster Movie (Moviem@s henceforth)?

As someone who has been enabled by Moviem@s (and many other things) and started playing Million Live after my trip to Japan this past February, I enjoy my Scamco-driven animated promotional material. Speaking as both a customer and a victim in this sense, the fact that they have to charge money in order to let us watch this stuff is probably way, way, waaaaaaay more obnoxious of an arrangement in this process than the mere audacity for the sprawling Idolm@ster franchise to introduce its next generation of money shakers and movers through advertising. It would be weird if they didn’t try to advertise their games.

On the other hand, buy the Blu-ray, one says. Well yeah I was a hair’s breadth away from buying my second copy after pictures of the Aniplex+ edition flooded twitter a day or two ago. It’s so pimp. But I already put in an order from HMV, which ships with a bonus wallscroll featuring, guess what, the Million Live girls. Isn’t that infinitely more insane? I’m spending hundreds of $ on advertisements. [And shipping.]

Imagine if you are watching TV and all the ads are paid content? But wait, what if the ads were better than the TV program you were watching? I mean, it sounds silly, but the scenario isn’t that far-fetched. In some ways that’s what is happening. If having the Million Stars in Moviem@s jarred you from the fantasy world you were living in, congratulations, Scamco whiffed and couldn’t bring some full-body characterization to the seven girls (Minako, Anna, Serika, Shiho, Kana, Nao, and Yuriko) and thus enable you. Good for you.

But to me, I see it a courtesy. They’re telling you what’s going on, and in some ways focusing the movie away on the ML girls and on the 765Pros is what everyone wanted. It’s just there are some issues to the movie given all these arrangements, and to some degree the results may disappoint some people. If you look at Moviem@s as some kind of as-is, commercially available, hourly-fungible disposable entertainment, you’re missing the point. Moviem@s, for Producers, is IM@S’s totem that embodies the past and future of the franchise, of the idols, of our emotions all together. It’s our M@sterpiece. Of course, it’s perfectly okay to miss the point, but don’t expect any sympathy from us if you stopped yourself from having a good time.

What I recommend, actually, is just watch Moviem@s a bunch of times. This stuff actually has a lot of rewatch value, and you wouldn’t even know it.

PS. By the way I’m just glad Matsuri and Fuka make appearances in this thing after all, as these two are my top ML idols today. There’s a weird time-wrap effect going on when you revisit the thing that enabled you, and you have a different appreciation all together. What’s funny is that the content is even “new” because, well, it’s not some telescoping introspection for years past. It’s barely 8 months!

PPS. The CG concern is real and I understand it, but it is, in the larger scope of things, trivial.


On Hiroi’s Karen Senki

Karen Senki is a cool sounding name, but it also sounds like a rejected candidate name for the Sakura Taisen property, if you get what I mean. But as a subsequent work coming from Oji Hiroi, the creative mind behind the hit Sega franchise in the late 90s and early 00s, it means something.

And I think that’s where I have any kind of hope of Karen Senki being something worthwhile. This guy gets it, understands how it works, at least in a certain context. I don’t think he’s making the next Ghost in the Shell or anything dark and grimy like UTD. Sakura Taisen, as a rule, always had some kind of dark underlining even if we don’t really see that outside of the games (and the oft-panned Sakura Wars TV series). Karen Senki should be no different. It’s the sort of “Let’s Make a Contract” schtik that makes Butch’s signature works stick so well. I think, more importantly, there is notably attention paid to the creative details. Just the logo itself can speak volumes.

karensenkilogo

At episode 2, that’s really all I can assure–it’s the same cheese. If you are familiar with, say, Sakura Taisen 3, except with the harem lead removed, you might imagine a similar sort of feeling. There are plenty of hooks and world-building laid out on the table by that point to keep you thinking about it. It is sufficiently engaging. And the cheese helps us to take things not too seriously, and some of us enjoy that cheese, for example, like those motocycle scenes or the bullet hell scenes. It seems that once you trade for the unlimited ammo perk you can never hit what you try to shoot at.

But you might get all this just from watching the anime. So let’s talk about what Hiroi spoke on at AWA. I think there were two screenings but I’m not sure if Hiroi was at the second one. Anyway, we got some Q&A going.

First, it might help to read some of the pre-release material. I only really cite three of them, but I think they cover mostly the same ground. It boils down to that Hiroi has some vision for the next evolution for what passes as anime. Anime we know today came from the general process of marketing behavior to sell merch to youths of Japan. With fewer youths in Japan than ever, naturally it becomes more arduous to produce works in that format. Instead, by fully embracing 3DCG, Hiroi wants to leverage the advantages of that medium in order to figure out a way to monetize in new ways, such as via mobile or streaming content in ways that are difficult for what passes for traditional animation today. The launch in North America is partly because he wanted to use oversea viewers to create buzz before he launches it in Japan. I see it as a sort of a beta test, and it seems reasonable.

One example he brought up in terms of how 3DCG give him more freedom to do things is in terms of the example he raised in the CR interview. If he wanted a revision, it can be done in days. Another example he brought up at AWA was being able to insert product placement or advertisement into the animation quickly, as a texture or some such. It also can be used in the opposite way, to meet production requirements (eg., remove logos/marks to appease a sponsor) or to meet local requirements (censorship), although he didn’t really say this. What he did say, as an aside, is how much money he made from Sakura Taisen 1.

It’s a sound rejection of the 00s style committee anime mining and it’s interesting in several ways, but we can think about the ramifications later. For one, I don’t know how Karen Senki will pan out. Maybe nobody does.

Maybe this is also why he’s basically bankrolling the series and pitching it his own way, free of interloping influences. For starters, he went with Next Media, which is actually not a problem besides being fancy pants Taiwanese 3DCG house means the animators all understand this “anime stuff” compared to the average North American animation pipeline. I can’t accurately speculate on costs but knowing Next Media it probably isn’t a whole lot. But at the same time I don’t see why he’s doing it solo, essentially, other than to forge some new business method. What I wanted to ask, but couldn’t quite get to, is what the end game is for Karen Senki. Maybe he doesn’t know it yet? But I guess we shouldn’t expect too much differences between it and the average IP, from the consumer point of view, should it prove to be successful enough to continue.

In some ways CR is also a big factor in the context that it’s really your biggest channel so far, so that makes me wonder what CR will do to promote Karen Senki. I hope they’re going to do more than to bring Hiroi to a con and stream the series. [Psst: Bring Meshiya (Karen's CV) to a con?]

The 3DCG is likely the biggest concern for most people about Karen Senki. I think you can judge it as you see it, but from the animation point of view, this is still what I consider as “anime” in that the core components are done by Japanese people, besides the music and the actual animation. It’s definitely blurring lines a lot once you have key creative people from outside of Japan playing a role, so I wouldn’t be troubled at all if someone says it’s not anime (as ANN seems to be saying by not indexing Karen Senki). I’ll post caps of the credits that I think is relevant, so you can make your own judgment on it. I mean, it’s something you have to think about–just because anime has non-Japanese people work on it (and far most anime today is this the case), at what point do we call something not-a-anime? Do we even bother with drawing this line (I do, for the record)?

Karen Senki s1e1

Oh, in case you didn’t know, Fujishima Kousuke is the character designer and Hiroi is the producer, planner, director and writer. And what does “Art Direction Services” actually mean? I suspect this pre-production staff might actually be the one aspect of the production in which tilts Karen Senki as “anime” in my book.

Karen Senki s1e1

Karen Senki s1e1

If we take a more empirical approach to what is anime and what isn’t, Karen Senki is hella anime, I would think. What really bothers me, though, is that it’s got this subtle but sharp edge in the way character animation happens where a smirk or an eye wink evoke the feeling that I’m watching a Taiwanese comedic routine. Maybe it’s because Next Media are the guys who made these silly shorts. Maybe it’s cultural mannerism or something that exhibits through the animation but it feels a little more cartoony than what I’m used to. The CG action scenes are also a little too exaggerated sometimes, that detracts from a sense of realism that permeates throughout the show at episode 2. If you think about RWBY and, say, the stuff Valve makes for Team Fortress, that’s kind of what I don’t want to see in Karen Senki. Thankfully, that’s so far the case, but there are just little hints of the kind of corner cutting that happens with a lower production-value 3DCG animation. Well, maybe corner cutting is putting it too severely, but it’s that sort of attention to details that I want to see.

At the same time, Pixar-level CG is mucho dinero and takes a long time to do well. In that sense I don’t think Karen Senki is going to further anything as far as the whole process of making anime by hand or by computers. It might, on the other hand, explore some new ways to apply what we understand as anime to other mediums. It’s the trade-off he has made.

PS. Urara Takano! That probably shouldn’t surprise anybody.