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.


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.


Anime Weekend Atlanta 2014: Wrap

It was my first AWA, and I had a good time at Atlanta. Part of it has to do with the ability to hit up tourist attractions like the World of Coca-Cola, but also I just did fun stuff. Like not sit in line all day, or eat good food (and paid a hefty price for that). I’m not sure how much of these fun-generating activities had to do with the con, and more so because it’s the South, and they do things differently.

That said, the con itself is run fairly okay for the parts of that in which I interacted with. I spent a good amount of the time inside the con hotel, which is where I stayed. It’s got that open well-like architecture where a nice pit-area-like setup at the ground floor is surrounded by the rest of the hotel, going up 14-or-so floors. It does mean things get really loud if you open your hotel room door. I mention this because that was a thing sort of in the way of us watching lives inside our hotel room when the door is propped open slightly.

Arigato, roboto-san

I watched the first two episodes of Karen Senki. I also got to talk to Ouji Hiroi a bit. I’ll talk about that later. But it’s nice to see someone like him at that con, adds a little bit of cred. He was there on Crunchyroll’s behest I guess, so he didn’t really show up on the schedule or the con promo, which is weird and odd and I think CR needs to not drop the ball there for whatever the reason. (I’ve done this too many times to assume it is just their fault, but it is their responsibility ultimately.) Anyway, they screened the first two episodes there (about 20 minutes worth of anime) and, well, it’s interesting to say the least. The most interesting thing was that Hara Sayuri is character voice of the titular character (and her sister).

The rest of the time we were there trying to accomplish our primary mission, which is to stalk a certain somebody whose name I’m not suppose to divulge. It was not a guarantee thing, so we were okay that we failed the primary mission because the secondary objectives were complete and fun in themselves. The World of Coca-Cola, for example, feels like a giant brainwashing chamber of commercialism and sweet syrup. It was quite the experience so I recommend it, but not in a good way, other than the soda sampling thing they’ve got going where you can drink like 80+ different Coke products, including 30+ variety from overseas.

The food and BBQ were tops. Steak was good. Heirloom was best of fusion American cuisine could be, if you think about it. We ate two meals at Local Three which is a ridiculous burn rate for the wallet, and I didn’t even have any Kentucky bourbon despite its huge list of such things or similar. It also served Suntory Hibiki. And how can we resist? It is the siren’s call for old timer Ps.

Speaking of secondary objectives, MIQ was there and she rocked. I think when we dig back to golden age anison singers (which is something I never do on this blog) she has to be one of the top ones right alongside Aniki and the likes of Horie Mitsuko or whoever else I don’t know. Yeah, Men of Destiny and all that. Essentially the con concerts, other than the forever young Shonen Knife, was a bit of a cover-fest. VLOMIQ, which are 11 of MIQ’s students from her school, also performed at AWA and they are obviously 100% cover. I think along with Ardith’s Konjos (her amateur cover group) and the various VocaloidPs spinning music they didn’t write at the rave, it’s a lot of covers all weekend long. And we didn’t mind as eventers. What was the problem was that none of us were really into old school music. Like, J9? Srsly. Loverin Tamburin was a nice rocking addon to the con though, and it’s the first time I’ve seen someone do double stage outfit disrobing.

Ardith is perhaps the most famous old school EN language fan, who’s been in Japan for a long time trying to strike it. She coauthored a bunch of stuff. But other than the whole ethnography angle it’s kind of interesting to see what sort of stuff happened as far as her participation in the other aspects of fandom. Along those lines, it’s always fun to see also the Nihongo de OK routine + Mirai de Neiro at the East Coast. Go Miku go.

I always said that Animazement is a laid-back experience. AWA is also similarly laid back. So I can see why this con is pretty enjoyable, down to the frenetic Thursday night flea market thing they’ve got going. But without a strong guest list like Animazement, AWA can be a bit of an investment, which explains why I’ve only made the journey this year.

Some idols

And yeah, there was a Love Live panel and an IM@S panel. I only went to the LL panel (in WUG gear) and IM@S panel ran into VLOMIQ so I couldn’t go. I spotted some IM@S cosplays in Forever Star ☆☆☆ outfits, which tickled my fancy. One twitter folk also cosplayed as Star Piece Memories Azusa. That is admittedly like, 5 more IM@S cospalyers more than I had expected. On Sunday, there was also a MayuC cosplayer. Needless to say I am very stoked, even if MayuC is not my oshi! This is an encouraging development!

No loot shot, because I didn’t really buy anything worth noting–MIQ and VLOMIQ were selling things so I picked up a couple things as a memento, but that was it. And a couple silly all-ages doujinshi from the Thursday night flea market.

Japan Music Sales Blargh

Lantis Fesst (9/23/2014)

This is the executive summary (by the way of Babymetal)


This is the original article, via the NYT.


Here’s an example of doing it too much that it’s making inaccurate statements. (Also worth reading is that last link to an earlier Verge article which did do some justice to this topic–I guess the guy who wrote it up just didn’t get what the first author was trying to say.)


Here’s a better one but still a tad off.


The problem of the…problem is that nobody is really wrong-wrong. It’s  more sloppy writing, not really understanding the full picture, not really digging into the core issue. And it’s not like I’m asking for a lot, 10-20 minutes at Google can give you all that is relevant. Also in the mix I find some kind of unsettling presumptions that these tech presses have when they subsequently re-blogged the NYT article. Well, it starts with the NYT.

To sum it up, it’s basically assuming that by not adopting, or adapting fast enough, the services that in 2014 people know well of, such as Rdio or Spotify, Netflix or iTunes Music Store, that Japan is not “embracing the digital.”

That is just the first problem, by the way. Japan is one of the very first to “embrace the digital.” What happened is that because they are early adopters, Japan’s various licensing bodies went to work to protect and monetize its properties. They want a shot at it; they wouldn’t just cough it up to the apparent market winner just because. There is a reason why Sony didn’t license to iTunes until 2012 domestically–it’s because they see iTunes a competitor to their own digital businesses, much like iPods are competitors to Sony’s PMPs over the years. Is it fair to call that protectionist? Maybe. But isn’t it just normal competition, where entities that own the whole stack can leverage rights to benefit the platforms it invested in? Apple doesn’t publish any music, I mean, can you imagine what would happen if that’s the case? Japan’s strange CD-based ecosystem affords Sony (and others) to play hardball with their competitors in the licensing space, where as they couldn’t fold fast enough in other markets.

There are a bunch of other factors behind why JP publishers are reluctant to license to the likes of Spotify. One of it is partly what the NYT article touches on, is that these Japanese businesses are too slow to abandon ship and switch, as execs busily maintain the status quo. The other is the high prices at CD sales, and the great fear that it comes with as new business models subvert, especially coming from foreign companies that are used to a much lower physical price point. If you bought anything off iTunes Japan you would know. These are major incentives for Japanese rightsholders to not cooperate with foreign companies trying to enter the Japanese market. These are what I expect these articles to actually talk about.

What disturbs me is that none of the articles recognizes that they’re all expecting American (and UK for Spotify I guess) brands to march into Japan as if they own the place. OK maybe I shouldn’t expect so much in Verge’s case but I expected more from NYT and Forbes, that they’d at least respect this huge business and cultural gulf between Japan and the rest of the world, just in general, in terms of this industry. But nope, not even a word to recognize this. That’s not even starting to talk about the things they did recognize, such as music rental, or how a hard core physical purchasing culture has been fostered (and along with it a very strong used goods economy–it feels as if none of the above writers has ever sets foot inside a Book-off in Japan), doing streaming digitally ala Spotify and the like may not work at all as a core business.

[On the Book-off note, doesn't it strike people when Japan's #1 used media chain can establish international branches? That's the kind of prestige reserved for very successful brands.]

And it’s not for lack of trying. On the domestic end or abroad. But all too quickly these articles seems to parrot a strange reluctance, and calling it strange, without really trying to actually explore why it is so.

But of course, it’s not such a bad thing–here’s one article that posits an interesting correlation to the strangeness: age.

The whole convo we’ve had on twitter is probably worth a read, if just to act as a sounding board for your own theories.

Between Tsutaya, Book-off, old people who buy old music everywhere, and all the other things that make Japan different, is it really a surprise that what works for Americans and Brits won’t work for Japan? And should it? It’s as preposterous as suggesting that Americans can buy more CDs if there are more idols in the USA.

Or maybe it’s not really that outrageous.

PS. Read some reports from 2012. Government output on study of music demographics, who buys what where, new media use, etc.

PPS. I’ll be hiding at AWA this weekend. Come and say hello. I’ll be wearing around a Myu happi one day and an IM@S 9th happi another day, which are probably the two most distinctive things you’ll find inside my luggage at AWA, I hope.

Daydreaming about Lantis Fest Vegas

Rather than just posture my embarrassing fantasy in the form of a guest request post on a certain forum, why not embarrass myself here instead. I have Google analytics! I know how many people read this blog. LOL.

Reon surprise guest at 9th? yeap.

Continue reading


Author trolls us with yet another dumb truism, but I will one up him. He asks, “should anime aspire to greatness and fall on its face, like Fractale, or should it aim for competent mediocrity and succeed?”

My answer is “What are you smoking? Is not Localdol great and exceeds mere mediocrity by all measures?”

This comes from a man who has finished watching Rail Wars, and kind of regret it. To that end, however, I am not alone. And I think this Brit puts it plainly. That is truly mediocre, if successfully so.

Rail Wars, more precisely, is actually aiming for mediocrity and achieving it. I finished the series not only because I am partial to seiyuu of certain types and trains, but because it is fairly well-executed fluff, bearing Vania600’s designs. If you can do that with a fanservice-oriented show, I would consider it a success, at least artistically.

But as someone who has watched Rail Wars, I can tell you that the gap between it and something like Locodol is night and day. For starters, I do not end Locodol with an excessive (albeit just a little in whole) feeling of regret in the form of “what the hell did I just waste my time doing?” I suspect Author has no idea what mediocrity really is, in the sense that I don’t know how many series he has finished is truly mediocre. And by that I don’t mean just “of only moderate quality,” I mean most shows he can afford the time are probably above average by a discernible amount, that the shows he finish are questionable in terms of their true conceits–do they even have any? Does he enjoy shows oriented to male titillation, for example? There’s an entire mountain’s worth of stuff under that category, and they vary greatly by quality.

Alternatively, we don’t have to go so far. It’s well-documented that people have different standards, even what passes for some literary parallel to the arithmetic mean. What we consider a regretful use of time will vary from person to person.