Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If you ever wondered what became of me

So it's been a long time since I've written anything here.

It's because I got a job. I am an honest-to-goodness reporter.

Yes, that means I packed up all of my stuff and drove across the country. It was an interesting experience. Maybe not one I would repeat any time soon, but it was an experience.

I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with the site (I'm probably going to talk to my editor about it.) But if you want to reach me, you can email iniksbane@gmail.com.

Anyways, I don't have much else to say.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Getting off the High Horse: Picking on Cowboy Bebop

Recently, I read an interesting exchange between Daniel and Michael about Cowboy Bebop.

And by recently, I mean about fifteen minutes ago.

Now, I've said my piece about the quality of Cowboy Bebop as a show, but comparing it to Faulkner is a bit unfair – both to Faulkner and Cowboy Bebop.

Faulkner's biggest strength (in my opinion) is his use of form. As Michael rightly points out, the stream-of-consciousness first person narration creates a immersive environment. The reader is not only seeing the story through the character's eyes, but also through their perception. So we're actually inside of the character's mind. It's a form that's often copied, but from what I've read of it, it's never done quite as well.

Where I disagree with Michael is that Cowboy Bebop uses a similar style. In fact, I disagree that Bebop uses form at all. Now I could be a Philistine, but I simply can't see the largely episodic structure (even with the slight tie-in in the end) as a homage. The episodes are too scattered, too tonally inconsistent and too rooted in third-person narration to be anything more than what they are – a collection of short pulp stories with a larger novella spread out among them.

That said, I think Raymond Chandler is a better writer than Faulkner. Hell, I think Robert Ludlum is a better writer than Faulkner.


Now, I'm not go into the whole depth issue. Frankly, I haven't really seen a good way to judge depth. But I do think that the comparison to an "airport thriller" is also incorrect. Bebop is noir. Maybe not quite in the way that Chandler describes hardboiled detectives, but more in the way that noir has become. Spike is Chili Palmer. He's the classic repentant criminal, who's trying to forget about his old life, but can't. Jet Black is… well… Philip Marlowe (or perhaps it'd be more fair to compare him to Matthew Scudder or Spenser). He's the classic disillusioned cop, who still believes in justice, but can't seem to work inside of the corrupt system. Faye Valentine is the femme fatale (there really are too many of them to name.) Really, the only thing that's unusual that Bebop brings to the table is Ed and Ein. Everything else is a stylish re-hash.

But that doesn't make it thematically empty. Yes, it does play out some rather familiar themes like identity, repentance and betrayal. But it leaves this viewer with enough questions to think about after it's all done. For instance, is identity determined by memories? Once an identity is formed can we willingly leave that identity behind? What happens when the things we based our identity on betray us? And if this is a good measure of depth, then I think Bebop succeeds.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Riding on the Space Train: A note on internal consistency


A long time ago, I did a post about Galaxy Express 999, looking at its often confusing, occasionally silly, but still satisfying world. In short, Three Nine's world rarely makes "sense" in any logical way. And it's completely unapologetic about it and often flaunts it. I mean, why wouldn't the space train run on coal?

But, I am a bit of a Matsumoto fanboy. Okay, I am a lot of a Matsumoto fanboy, so I set out on his current trip on the space train – Galaxy Railways.

Now overall, I think it's a good show. It's definitely enjoyable. But it definitely does need some comparison with the original as far as world view goes.

What makes Galaxy Railways interesting, is that it does concede to trying to build a believable reality. Gone are the trains floating through space riding some sort of invisible track, and in comes an almost Cowboy Bebop-esque set of rings that seem to hold this invisible track. Sure, there are still scenes where the crew walks outside of the train without any breathing apparatus, but now there's a forcefield that seems to hold the air in.

But all of this got me thinking, are these things really realistic? Let's take the wind ruffling the hair, when the crew is outside of the train or has the window open. Now if we assume that the train is carrying around the pocket of air (a safe assumption considering that they're able to drop their shield) then there shouldn't be any wind because the air is moving at the same speed as they're going. Oh yeah, and smoke evidently can filter out of the shield, but air doesn't escape? And then there's the big one:

They're riding a train. In space.

But really, I could pick on Galaxy Railways some more. But it really is a good show. Usually I am a stickler for internal consistency, but in a lot of ways the show reminded me of AIR. They were both shows that paid the briefest lipservice to internal consistency. In AIR's case, it set up a mythology about a winged girl and then expected everything else to fall in around it. And for the most part it did. And for the most part it did.

This all brings up a question. Do I expect my shows to be internally consistent or don't I? Do I expect a world that sets out rules that make sense? Or will I willingly extend my disbelief to cover even the most unbelievable things? (A lot of this reminds me of some of Coburn's comments on mechambivalence.)

And I think it depends. In the case of both AIR and Galaxy Railways, I think the shows appeal to the viewer to discard logic in favor of feeling the show. To not pay attention to the astral projections, or the train riding through space. Instead, they ask us to form a bond with main characters and cheer them through their trials. For the most part, both of them work.

Well, except for the last two episodes of AIR.

(Obligatory spoiler warning.)


The thing about Galaxy Railways is that it didn't force you to ponder its inconsistencies. Much like Three Nine, it worked because it didn't try to explain itself. So those problems with the logic of the show become kind of like asking about the paradox in the Terminator movies or the existence of bi-pedal war machines. They just aren't important. The show doesn't dwell on them. And it certainly doesn't build a mythology around them.

And that's the problem with the last two episodes of AIR. They just aren't consistent with the rest of the story. They ask the viewer to accept that somehow turning into a crow and then hugging the current vessel of the winged girl will somehow free her of the curse. That somehow, this is what previous generations intended all along. And even after that, the show proceeds to even ditch that concept in favor of the main male character needing to hunt down Misuzu because his work isn't done. Isn't done? He turned into a crow, traveled back into the past, and then came back and his work still isn't done? Come on.

See my problem with the end of AIR isn't that it's inconsistent. But that it highlights those inconsistencies to highten its emotional appeal. And in the end, it backfires.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In My View: I fail (Now with pictures!)

I was wrong.

I'll admit it. It has happened before, and it'll happen again. Part of the reason I write in this blog is to present arguments that strike me at the time as valid, and see how well they fly.

And to be honest, on the whole fansub ethical issue I ignored the third option: to not buy it. Which is really the only ethical option in my argument.

But I did get a lot of interesting comments that I think deserve a full response.


Point One: Buying is not an ethical action

Now I've made this argument before, but I think it bears repeating. The exchange of money for goods is not an ethical action. It's not an unethical action either. Now I'm not going to go as far as to say that the person who's selling a product is not entitled to set a price on a product. But the only person who can set a value on a product is the individual consumer.

Now Sagacious1 brought up a good point that the value of a product can't be generalized. But just because it can't be generalized doesn't mean the final arbiter of the value should be the person who made it. Because that means if I buy a product on sale or used or rent it than it's unethical (or at the very least less ethical than buying it at MSRP).This opens up a whole bag of worms which I think is both unnecessary and frankly a little insulting. Because if I can't determine the worth of a product than who should? The anime industry? The animators? The distributors?

Now the big problem with my argument is that it's quite possible that you might pay less than what the product is worth to you (which would mean it's actually an unethical action), but that's a better result than the alternative.

The other reason why considering buying an ethical action is a problem is that it legimatizes "Buyer Beware" as an ethical argument. If I buy a product that isn't worth what I paid for it, then the seller does have an ethical obligation to take it back. (Strange how this doesn't seem to work in the real world.) To go back to Sagacious1's Bentley argument, if I buy a car and it's a lemon, it's not my fault that the car was a lemon and I was definitely harmed if the seller isn't willing to give me my money back.


Point Two: Zero Sum Gained and Selfishness

The problem with not buying being the only ethical action in my case, is that there is a zero sum gained for the anime industry. Now I'll admit that this really was my only problem with Ayres argument. I do respect that he's right in the end, but if I don't buy and I don't watch fansubs (of shows that aren't released in the United States) then where does that leave the anime industry.

Really, the big reason I don't have a problem with watching shows like Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Monster or Rose of Versailles is that I wouldn't buy them (unless by some miracle they get a US release). Now that doesn't justify stealing them (omo and Sagacious1 are completely correct on that point.) Sure I ought to pay what they're worth to me, but without a means to do that I'm left on the wrong side of my ethics without a way out. Now Scott's all or nothing approach does appeal to me, but I guess I have to admit that DrmChsr0 is right. I am selfish.

Now that is a bitter pill to swallow.


Point Three: The Monetizing of Enjoyment

The big reason I didn't touch on the economic issue is that what is happening in the anime industry is a microcosm of what is happening in the larger entertainment industry. Network television is struggling. DVD sales are down. All around we can see the signs of media saturation. And when you combine that with the ever blurring line between professional and amateur content, the rapid devaluation of entertainment and throw in a healthy dose of entitlement (which is not just a symptom of "this" generation. Spend some time working retail and you'll see what I mean) you get a problem which is both cultural and economic. And it's hard to split those two apart.

The only difference is that the anime industry presents an even more convoluted, almost labyrinthine, business model. It's almost impossible to follow the money from a release because part of it is through DVD sales, part of it is through figures, part of it is through general merchandise and part of it is through ad revenue and part of it is through licensing fees. Even renting doesn't provide a simple one to one ratio because most of the time the studio still "owns" the product, the rental company is just borrowing it. (Although this may or may not hold true with the anime industry.)

But to be honest, when I read the Ayres interview my initial reaction (and some of a lot of commenters) was, "Hey wait, I spend money." And to be honest, I spend a quarter of my disposable income a month to buy anime. Again, this doesn't justify stealing, but it does dishearten me when someone comes along and says, "You're not doing enough" or "You don't have a right to watch that show." Because while they may be right, I feel like I'm being denied and dismissed.

This isn't really the way you want to treat your customers.


Point Four: The Customer isn't always right, but they're still the customer

Now using customer in this context is a little disingenuous. Customers buy stuff. But for argument's sake, let's replace customer with consumer. The thing about consumers is that they feel entitled to what they consume. This goes for every age bracket, every generation and pretty much the majority of America. And if you pay attention to politics you'll notice that not only do they feel entitled to what they consume they also feel that they pay too much for it. Is this a bit elitist of me to say? I'll let other people decide that.

The thing is that all of that is right, but no one likes being told that. There's got to be a more politic way to go about it. Brandishing swords (in a panel or on the Internet) will not solve this problem for the industry. Trading invectives is not going to change anything. All it's going to do is make both sides dig their trenches a little deeper and make people like me make faulty arguments and splash them into the Internet.

But the other side of that argument is that people do have to buy. Now you don't have to buy everything. You don't have to put yourself out on the street. And you certainly don't have to buy stuff that isn't worth buying. But for any entitlement argument to work, there has to be a concerted effort to actually purchase stuff. Well unless we all decide to go and shoot the creators. That's always an option.


Point Five: All of this makes me depressed.

To be fair, talking about fansubs and the industry makes me depressed. Because it feels like there's an overemphasis on what I do wrong and no emphasis on what I do right. Almost every argument made against downloading fansubs is valid. But a lot of the arguments for downloading them are valid too (at least in the case of shows that aren't going to be released in the United States). Granted, none of the ethical ones really stand up (at least from what I can tell.) Maybe omo can give me a better metaphor.

All this said, a lot of this discussion has left me feeling a bit helpless and definitely hopeless. I'm not really seeing a solution.

And what's worse, is the admission that downloading isn't really ethically justified (something I knew before but hadn't really thought about) really set my brain in gear. Now my Dad has instilled into me the credo that as long as you admit what you're doing is wrong and can accept the consequences than do it. But on the other hand, what exactly are the consequences of admitting what your doing is wrong and then doing it anyway.

I guess that makes me a hypocrite.

And that is really the hardest pill to swallow of all.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

In My View: Fansubs? Again?

So there's been a lot of drama around Scott's post about Greg Ayres panel. And granted, I know I'm writing this pretty late in the game, but it's taken me a while to get my thoughts into a coherent form on this subject.

The problem with fansubs and the industry is not a simple one. And there isn't a simple fix for it (well except for shooting all of the downloaders). To be frank, I'm not qualified to talk about this problem on a business level. I don't even think the industry really knows how to make money in this new market. Most of the arguments I've heard sound like people taking their personal experiences and trying to generalize them to the wider populace (including mine.) While they certainly sound nice, there isn't enough evidence one way or the other to really talk about the issue. Especially since it seems that even providing fans with anime straight from Japan wasn't enough to save GDH from the threat of getting taken off of the stock index for Japan.

And I'm certainly not qualified to talk about copyright from a legal angle. Despite what people may think, the law is neither simple nor clear-cut on ANYTHING. Even something as simple as, "the right to free speech" depends on time, place, manner, medium and content. Case law is often contradictory and occasionally flat out confusing. And copyright law is no less labyrinthine.

So we're left with one thing I can discuss with some level of intelligence.

Ethics.

Now, I'll freely admit, I wasn't a philosophy major. I did take a few classes in college and my sister did major in it, so I'm arguing based on what I know. If anyone wants to correct me, please feel free. But as far as ethics go, I'm a Libertarian. So your mileage may vary, depending on how your feel.

The Problem with Stealing

Now, omo is certainly right. Stealing is an easy metaphor when we're dealing with downloading copyrighted material. But in my mind, it's also the correct one. I mean, anime IS a product. It is meant for sale. Taking a product that is meant for sale is, well, stealing. The thing is that all stealing isn't equal. What if I steal the denotation device from a nuclear bomb? What if I steal food that's going to be thrown away? What if I steal a five-dollar bill off of the side of the road? What if I steal clothes out of a dumpster and then sell them to a thrift store?

And I have to admit that Ayres's argument is compelling. I don't want to put anyone out street. I don't think any of us do. But just like anime consumers can be accused of seeing the industry as one faceless mass of people, the industry can be accused of seeing consumers as one open wallet that should be willing to give them cash.

So the question becomes, who's right? And the answer is it depends on who is getting harmed more.

Like it or not, anime has no intrinsic worth beyond the plastic it's printed on and the packaging it comes in. Any worth it has must be determined by the consumer. Period. And just like Ayres (and to a lesser extent Scott) seem to think that, "We owe it to the creators to give them money." The anime industry owes it to the consumer to give them a product that's worth buying (this is why I don't like the 'Save the Industry' argument.) Now Scott is certainly right. If a show has come out in the United States and you live in the United States than for God's sake rent it. If $9 a month is going to put you out on the street than you've got bigger problems than watching anime. And to be honest, the majority of anime series are worth what you'd pay for Netflix.

The problem starts though when the show is not available in the United States (or in whatever country you happen to be in.)

Because in a perfect world, you, the consumer, would be able to decide whether a show is worth buying or watching on TV or through Hulu without having to wait and wonder if it'll be released in the States. In a perfect world, you wouldn't have to choose between importing the disk (not to mention hunting down a region free player) and stealing it off the Internet.

But we don't live in a perfect world.

No matter how much we want to.

So the question is no longer which one is more right, and becomes which one is less wrong. And that answer depends on how much anime is worth to you.

Frankly, it's worth $7.50 an episode for a show I REALLY like on DVD. It's not worth $30. So I have to balance out the harms. I'm hurting the industry $7.50 an episode when I download and they're hurting me $22.50 an episode if I import it.

It's that simple.

Why this matters and why it doesn't

The classic arguments against what I just said are, "You're just making justifications," or "You just do it because you know there won't be any consequences." And they're right to a degree. I can do it because there aren't any consequences and I am making an ethical argument (which is in a way a justification.) But when the law doesn't provide you with a deterrent for your actions, and the anime companies haven't started hiring mercenaries to enforce their vision of the "proper" consumer, all you have left is ethics.

And ethics like it or not, are personal. I can argue with people. I can disagree with people. But in the end, I can't expect people to see things my way. The only person who can decide whether or not you should click that torrent link is you.

For anyone who finished reading this, I apologize for the length. I had a lot to say, and I couldn't figure out how to shorten it down.

Monday, June 30, 2008

In this Nation of the Blind: On Anime Journalism in the age of blogging

Now I'll admit that I don't really understand the nature of Internet journalism as omo has pointed out quite fairly. And the nature of journalism itself is changing. I mean take a look at CNN.com and you'll see political blogs and "citizen" journalism by way of ireporter.

I'll admit that I'm torn.

You see on the one side, I'm a journalism elitist. I do believe that there is a proper way to report. I do believe that there should be standards and ethics and an attempt to remove the personality of the reporter from the article. In fact, I'd take it so far as to say that I hold professionals to a higher standard than I hold amateurs. I believe the majority of us bloggers (myself included) do not have the resources or the knowledge to do a good in-depth article. (Although I'll admit Scott does some really bang-up columns, like this one on Tokyopop.)

This is why I get angry at professionals who don't live up to my standards. And I don't get angry at other people.

But I also realize that I'm a dinosaur. Because like it or not, print is dead. Okay, maybe it's not dead but it is morphing into a multi-platform experience using the Web, Broadcast and Newspapers in an attempt to reach new readers or even old readers. It's becoming less top down and more of a community of people who are willing to invest themselves in the experience.

This is why I'm torn. Because like I've said before, I'm a pretty radical Civil Libertarian. I do believe more speech is better speech and that avenues of communication shouldn't be limited just because a few stodgy old men want to cling onto their precious rituals.

This leads to omo's central question. What should the nature of Internet journalism be? And perhaps more importantly (for the sake of this blog), what should the nature of anime journalism be?

And my answer is that there has to be a place to meet in the middle. Now, I'll freely admit I like Gia's site. It's quick. It's easy to read. And it's generally and genuinely informative (although I'd really like some direct quotes. Please? Anyone?) And it's quite possible it could turn into a site that I'd want to frequent to get my news.

But there's something I need as a reader. And it's something that's been lacking from almost every Internet news source on anime that I find.

And that's perspective. Anime news reporting has mastered the art of the brief. And that's great, but it's time to move past that. It's time to move into the realm of multiple source stories. It's time to move out of the realm of the Q&A and move into the realm of news articles with an angle (at least for the stories that deserve it.) It's time for someone, anyone, to discard the mantle of information disseminator and take up the mantle of a reporter.

Because the Otakusphere is chock full of commentators (myself included), it has a slew of reviewers (more than I could read in one lifetime), but what we don't have is someone who's willing to talk to multiple people, navigate the ever-shifting landscape of facts and put it into a cohesive and digestible form for me. Although, like I said, I might not understand the nature of this new world of Internet reporting. I am a dinosaur after all.

But it seems to me, that in this nation of the blind… the one-eyed man (or woman) would be king.

Impressions: Master Keaton – The Half Blood Prince

So there are occasionally shows that seem to float around the Otakusphere like poorly kept secrets and creep up every time someone mentions a latent desire for a particular brand of program that isn't widely represented in anime.

Master Keaton is one of those shows.

Now, I'll admit that I'd heard about Master Keaton well before someone else told me about it, mostly because I have a tendency to watch the previews on anime disks (I actually watch them on movies too. The sad thing is that I do it more than once sometimes if I really like it.) But I had heard it mentioned right alongside the likes of Monster by the folks over at Anime World Order. I do like Monster. In fact, I like Monster a lot.

And on the surface, the two shows do have some things in common. In particular, Naoki Urasawa drew the manga for both shows, so they have similar character designs. They both feature a fairly realistic story (arguably more realistic in Keaton's case.) They were both directed by Masayuki Kojima. Last but not least, they both have a central theme which ties the episodes together.

That's where the similarities end. While Monster follows a larger overall arc, while separately investigating the nature of the monster, Master Keaton examines culture clashes in a rigidly episodic formula. Don't get me wrong, they are both good shows, but comparing the two would be like trying to compare MacGyver to The Saint - an interesting diversion, but largely a fool's errand.

Like I said prior to this, I had heard about the show years prior to actually deciding to watch it. What had turned me off from buying it was the promo, which made Keaton sound like some sort of Japanese version of Wesley Crusher. The entire promo was capped off with the line, "He will find out that he is all of those things and more. He is a jack-of-all-trades and master of them all. He is Master Keaton." And if that isn't a cornball line, I don't know what is.

The funny thing is that Keaton is easily the most interesting character in the show. In fact, contrary to the promo he isn't really a jack-of-all-trades. For the most part, he's an insurance investigator, who really wants to be an archeologist. He is a divorcee, who doesn't seem to get to spend a lot of time with his daughter (we never see his ex-wife or his mother who also divorced his father.) He's half-Japanese and half-English, but he doesn't really fit into either culture fully. He gets clubbed over the head, dropped into a well, has his leg broken and gets left in the desert to die (all in different episodes.) So while, he might be good at what he does, he certainly doesn't seem to have the Deus Ex Machina luck that Wesley Crusher has.

In fact, his character is best summed up in the last episode when he's fencing with one of his former trainers in the SAS, "… you're fighting style is unique, but the problem is that it's too unique. That's why you'll never be a Professor, just a Master."

And if anything is true about Keaton it's that he is certainly unique. In fact, he sits as a kind of half-blood prince who doesn't really have a homeland. And this tension between cultures permeates the series. You have the poor against the riches. The young against the old. Refugees and nationalists. It's a show (much like Monster) that circles around these themes from every possible angle and as soon as you think you have the message figured out it switches on you. It is definitely a unique show for that.

But I'm not sure if it's really good.

The problem with the show is that it's episodic. And like most episodic shows, there are some truly stellar episodes and there are a bunch of decent episodes and there are some hackneyed cobbled together trash episodes that have no business being in the show. I mean it'll have a tense desert escape episode right next to an episode about growing flowers. It has episodes like "Blue Friday" which is a clever homage to Casablanca. And then it has an episode about saving an endangered Malay tiger from the Tong. This leads to something that Monster never seems to have – tonal inconsistency. This isn't helped by the horrible, horrible dub.

Both of those things work to undermine what could otherwise be a truly remarkable show. But instead leaves it as a show with some brilliant episodes that is largely forgettable.

 

Friday, June 27, 2008

Otakon or Bust

I'm going down to Okaton. Going to eat me lots of… dangos? Pocky?

What is the preferred food of anime conventions anyway?

So yes, for the second time of my life I am actually going to an anime convention and I'm pretty excited. I mean it's not a real big stretch, I live 20 miles outside of the Inner Harbor. Even with traffic, it'd probably take me an hour to get there. But still…

It's not like I've avoided conventions for all of these years. It's just that I never really saw the point. The majority of my friends weren't really into anime the same way I'm into anime. They certainly wouldn't bother making up budgets so that they could spend their money buying DVDs. And for the most part, I lived in the middle of a wheat field in Eastern Washington. Three hundred miles away from the nearest convention and I didn't have a car.

So it isn't a real surprise that I hadn't gone until I went to Otakon 2006.

And I was severly overwhelmed. I think I spent most of my time watching stuff that either hadn't come out yet, or stuff I hadn't even heard of. And as someone who didn't really download fansubs, it was definitely an experience. But this time, I'll be prepared.

At least, I think so.

On Mecha design and heroes

So The Animanachronism's recent post on the nature of mecha brought to mind a set of posts I did a while back on the role of the citizen solider and the Arthurian hero in anime (a set of posts I'm still a bit proud of.) It's got me thinking about what is the role of the mecha in mecha anime. Other than to sell toys and other merchandise to people who seem to like that kind of stuff. And sure there are shows that seem determined to do that, but even those the mecha has to play some sort of role in the show.

If it didn't, well there wouldn't be much of a show.

But the thing about analyzing the role of the mecha in mecha shows is that they're intrinsically tied to the characters who pilot them. I mean what does the cape clad, white Lancelot say about Suzaku. (Even beyond the moral questions that it raises.) Or what does the vague Escher-esque Big-O with its hammer of God message say about the role of Roger Smith. Honestly, I think there are some consistencies between these categorizations that I've seen.

A Tool of War

Now with the citizen solider, the mech is a tool of war. Now arguably the theme of war pops up in a lot of more Arthurian shows, but unlike those heroes the mech is rarely flashy. VOTOMS is an almost perfect example of a mech that is ugly, utilitarian and kills people. The same can be said about the mecha in Gasaraki. Now there have been some variations on this theme, but in general the mecha are also uniform. These people didn't just happen across some mech in an underground storage shed, or if they did then they aren't really any more special than the average toaster.

Now later shows have played off of this theme. The Arbalest from FMP is an example of an Excalibur like mech that is given to a citizen solider (Granted, I might be the only one who thinks it's strangely symbolic that a pale, wispy girl tossed a nearly magical machine out of a giant lake to land at the hero's feet.)

But even then it's still a tool. A handy tool, but the citizen solider doesn't rely on it to win his battles, unless it's the right tool for the job. And because it's a tool, the citizen solider mecha tend to be nearly person-sized. They're rarely more than 10 or 15 feet tall. It could be said that the man makes the machine and not the other way around.

A Magical Totem

Whereas when we look at Arthurian heroes, it is the machine that makes the man. In fact, the machine itself sometimes takes on a life of its own, becoming an extension of the hero itself. Gundam Zeta's various power-ups seem to fit into this category. And since the central question of the Arthurian hero is "What type of country do I want to create?" and the enemies have to get progressively harder (because otherwise the tension would drop) the totem also has to become more powerful.

Now there is some gray area here, because occasionally you do have an Arthurian hero who has to learn his machine better so that he can accomplish his goals. In these cases, the machine itself is as powerful as it can get, but the pilot has to unlock its secrets. (Escaflowne comes to mind here.)

And since it is a magical totem, the machine itself has to be impressive and unique. Generally these mecha are giants and tend to dwarf their pilots. They tend to range about 15 to 50 feet high (or at least from what I can tell.)

An Otherworldly Being

Adam's mecha provides the most difficulty in analysis, mostly because there are so few of them and there is a good deal of variation. But in general, Adam's mecha is the impetus of his epiphany. This is true in both Evangelion and RahXephon. It's even true in Gasaraki. But in most cases, they also tend to be reflective of both the tones and the themes of the story. Unit 01 in Evangelion is almost bestial when it slips loose of its traces. Reflecting back on the main struggle between how Shinji perceives himself and how he wants others to perceive him. RahXephon is almost majestic, but it's also alien and unpredictable. Reflecting back on the main theme of acceptance (both of the self and others.)

In general, what separates Adam's mecha from the Arthurian mecha is that in the case of Adam these mecha are alien and they're at best impartial, at worst possessed with motivations that the hero doesn't know anything about.

Monday, June 23, 2008

In My View: On PiQ, ADV and sentimentalism

So I meant to write this when it was a bit more topical, but I got distracted by Final Fantasy V.

And to be honest, there's something really fun about 16-bit graphics and turned-based combat. Something that reminds me of a time before computer RPGs got complicated by having to make sure you hit the X-button when the circle crosses the other circle so that you can get the full effect of your hit. No. If you hit, you hit. And if you don't hit, then we all know what happens. The Skelesaur is going to beat the crap out of you because you didn't level enough before you went up Dragon Mountain.

But in all truth, I'm a sentimental type of guy. I like little knickknacks of my past or at least the happier times of my past.

Which is why I hope that ADV makes it.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't have any illusions that the capitalist system should be a pastel picture filled with fields of flowers while dewy eyed moe girls stare wistfully off into the horizon. There's no room in the capitalist system for nostalgia or sympathy. The capitalist world instead is made out of steel and concrete, where those doe-eyed moe girls weep softly in the alley after being gang raped by a bunch of men in business suits.

And make no mistake; ADV has taken a lot of hits in the last few months. The least of which being losing Gurren Lagann, the Anime Network's Linear Service closing down, having their production held hostage for almost a month and cutbacks in Europe. And now PiQ is shutting its doors. I mean if ADV isn't heading for that slow slide into that good night, then I'll be surprised. They are as one person put it, a company that rode the wave when it was high and now can't find their footing once the wave has collapsed. Or at least that's what it seems like to my untrained outsider point of view.

But still, I hope that they find a way to make it. Because like Central Park Media, Geneon and for most part Media Blasters, they're an icon from a better time. Now as someone who has at least been on the periphery of this hobby for the last 10 years. I've seen it go through all of the stages: from the initial "Wow they're releasing it on VHS?" days in the mid-1990s to the "Cool it's actually on Cartoon Network" in the latter part of that decade, to "Neat, it's in Sam Goody" in the early part of the decade to now when it's almost become commonplace. (And dare I say mainstream. Although that's another post for another time.)

And more than anything else, it's that initial excitement that I feel nostalgic about. That feeling that anime was something different and new and kind of edgy or kind of silly. That it was something that could pull a few dozen people into a darkened room on campus so we could watch a few hours of it on a big screen because someone had bought a disk.

Granted, it was this same initial excitement that ADV capitalized on. And it's silly for me to feel nostalgic about that, they are just a distributor. They don't make anything. They just repackage it with subtitles and a fairly decent dub and put it out on the market. They've made their mistakes. They've gotten smacked by the market for it. That's really the end of the story.

But I can't help thinking that when they go a little of the magic of those times is going to go with them. I can't help but remembering watching the last two disks of RahXephon on no sleep. Or popping in the disks from Gasaraki. Or any of the other memories, I have related to their releases.

And I can't help but hope that they manage to make it. Even if sentimentalism doesn't have any place in a capitalist world.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shampoo Planet: The siren song of Ergo Proxy

So I'm seriously starting to question my taste.

Ever since I ventured into the Otakusphere last October, I've seen almost nothing but derision for Ergo Proxy. I've seen it called heavy-handed, tedious and downright coma-inducing. In fact, the only good thing I ever read about it came from Anime Sophist, who called it the best series he'd seen in 2007. But I'd started buying it, so I kept buying it, because I hadn't had any problems with what I had watched.

So I finished watching it and well… I liked it. I'll be honest, I didn't find it overly preachy, I didn't find it heavy handed, yeah a few parts were slow, but nowhere near as slow as the last half of Texnolyze (which seemed to grind to a halt after episode 13.) I liked the characters. And believe it or not, I didn't have any problems with the world.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't love the show, but I enjoyed watching it.

Honestly, it'd be easy to prattle on about questionable religious connections. I mean the show throws around terms like Creator as if it meant you to see it. It also has enough allusions to classical literature and pop culture to choke a horse. We can run the gamut from Daedulus and Icarus straight to the "Mickey Mouse" episode. But I don't really think that's what appealed to me.

What struck me were two of the episode titles: life after God and Shampoo Planet.

Now the first one could have been a coincidence, I mean there's a lot of religious references in the show and a lot of philosophical references. It could have just as well been a reference to Nietzche. Strange enough, it's the title of a fairly lesser known book by Douglas Coupeland. But when I hit the second title (another reference to a Coupeland book) I figured I was on to something.

Honestly, what tickled my brain (and exposed me for the pretentious phony that I may be) was the fact that Ergo Proxy may not be about religion or philosophy at all. Or rather those things might just be trappings for the real allusion of the story which seems to me to be a sociological one, in particular the story of one generation clashing with another generation.

This is the land Our Fathers left us

Now what makes those references interesting is the fact that they both deal with Generation X. Now there's some discussion about where Gen X really falls in the timeline (at least here in America) but generally it's assumed that it starts at 1965 and ends around 1980 (some people put it at 1976, some people put it at 1981). And if I had to sum it up, I'd borrow a quote from Fight Club:

"God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off"

This is really at the heart of Douglas Coupeland's books (and Fight Club as well). What makes this strange and strangely intriguing is how much this reflect's Re-l's speech at the beginning of the series and Vincent's initial urge to be a "model citizen". They're both characters who start off without any real meaning in their lives, without anything that defines them as people. (Which is probably one of the reasons why they're considered boring, and in all fairness I did think Vincent was a little bland towards the beginning.) They're a generation of people who are doing even less than waiting to die, they're waiting to live.

Now arguably both of them are pretty much the classic Adam archetype (with the one exception being that the story actually doesn't start until the end of the first episode.) But that said, they're both forced to confront the world that's been left to them. Of course you could look at their Gulliver-esque travels as a series of thought exercises in philosophy. But there seems to be a consistent theme to all of the places that they visit. And that's the fact that almost all of the proxies (and the people) are looking for a way to fit in, trying to find a place to belong in the world that had been left to them. Someone could definitely argue that the people outside the domes did have factors that defined their lives, but that said, I find them more lost than found.

The siren song of Ergo Proxy

Inevitably, whenever anyone bring up "generations" someone will say it's rubbish or that it's a marketing ploy or that it's an overgeneralization. And to a point, I agree. We are individuals. We do experience life differently depending on our culture, surroundings, upbringing and personal beliefs. But having grown up during the height of Gen X and having friends and teachers from that generation, I'm inclined to say that there's something to all of the talk. I mean I went through the recession in the 90s, I went through the rise of the Internet and the destruction of the Challenger. I definitely felt that same ennui that was prevalent during those times. And ironically, I've seen it replaced with a generation that is much more socially and policitically active and cares more.

But what appealed to me about Ergo Proxy was that intentionally or unintentionally it recaptured that feeling of being undefined and unaccepted and it structured a pretty good story around it. Maybe that makes me a pretentious phony, but there it is anyway.

Friday, June 13, 2008

In My View: The myth of supporting the industry

(Please note: I'm arguing from a Libertarian ethical standpoint. Your mileage may vary.)

So there's been something that's been bothering me for the last couple of months, but I haven't really been able to put a finger on it. It wasn't until I watched the special features on the Haruhi DVDs that it struck me.

Tucked in amid all of the rest of the credits on the ASOS Brigade special feature was a fairly innocuous line:

A special thanks to

All of the fansub lovers who buy the official DVDs and help support more creative works.

No special thanks to

Downloaders/bootleggers who never buy the official DVDs

Now in all fairness this little piece of propaganda has gotten fairly common in these circles in the past couple of years, and has spread like a cold in an elevator ever since the Geneon collapse. Now even past the self-congratulatory smugness of this statement, there's something else that's been bugging me: the idea that buying is ethically good. So let me set my opinion straight on this, the act of exchanging money for entertainment can be either a good or bad thing depending on the quality of the entertainment. But the simple act of "buying" is not necessarily an ethical thing.

That is unless you watched the fansubs. And then buying isn't really an ethical act, but a form of penance, a way to pay back people who you took the entertainment from in the first place.

See what bugs me about this entire argument is that the focus is on the wrong thing. People seem to be confusing the cause with the effect. Anime is a product. DVDs are products. The anime industry, the studios, the directors, the distributors, they aren't products. You aren't and shouldn't be spending your money to "support the industry," you should be spending your money to buy a product. Now, I don't blame the anime industry, I mean they got to sell DVDs, so they're going to use whatever methods they can to convince people to buy. And I don't really blame the fans; I mean everyone wants to believe that they're the hero of their own story.

But, Jiminey Christmas, this idea that I need to buy to support the industry seems like it should come complete with children living in poverty stricken countries, while Sally Struthers tells us how, "You too can help the anime industry for low cost of $ .99 a day" And that's my problem with it. If the product is worth buying, then I'll buy it. If it wasn't worth buying, then I won't buy it. It's that simple. I don't need some sort of guilt trip to make me purchase a DVD. And I definitely don't need some sort of pat on the back to tell me what my ethics should be.

But if the industry is compelled to say something, and evidently they are, a simple thank you would suffice. Because being thanked for correcting an action that was wrong in the first place feels a bit slimy to me.

In My View: The myth of supporting the industry

(Please note: I'm arguing from a Libertarian ethical standpoint. Your mileage may vary.)

So there's been something that's been bothering me for the last couple of months, but I haven't really been able to put a finger on it. It wasn't until I watched the special features on the Haruhi DVDs that it struck me.

Tucked in amid all of the rest of the credits on the ASOS Brigade special feature was a fairly innocuous line:

A special thanks to

All of the fansub lovers who buy the official DVDs and help support more creative works.

No special thanks to

Downloaders/bootleggers who never buy the official DVDs

Now in all fairness this little piece of propaganda has gotten fairly common in these circles in the past couple of years, and has spread like a cold in an elevator ever since the Geneon collapse. Now even past the self-congradulatory smugness of this statement, there's something else that's been bugging me: the idea that buying is ethically good. So let me set my opinion straight on this, the act of exchanging money for entertainment can be either a good or bad thing depending on the quality of the entertainment. But the simple act of "buying" is not necessarily an ethical thing.

That is unless you watched the fansubs. And then buying isn't really an ethical act, but a form of penance, a way to pay back people who you took the entertainment from in the first place.

See what bugs me about this entire argument is that the focus is on the wrong thing. People seem to be confusing the cause with the effect. Anime is a product. DVDs are products. The anime industry, the studios, the directors, the distributors, they aren't products. You aren't and shouldn't be spending your money to "support the industry," you should be spending your money to buy a product. Now, I don't blame the anime industry, I mean they got to sell DVDs, so they're going to use whatever methods they can to convince people to buy. And I don't really blame the fans, I mean everyone wants to believe that they're the hero of their own story.

But, Jiminey Christmas, this idea that I need to buy to support the industry seems like it should come complete with children living in poverty stricken countries, while Sally Struthers tells us how, "You too can help the anime industry for low cost of $ .99 a day" And that's my problem with it. If the product is worth buying, then I'll buy it. If it wasn't worth buying, then I won't buy it. It's that simple. I don't need some sort of guilt trip to make me purchase a DVD. And I definitely don't need some sort of pat on the back to tell me what my ethics should be.

But if the industry is compelled to say something, and evidently they are, a simple thank you would suffice. Because being thanked for correcting an action that was wrong in the first place feels a bit slimy to me.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

In My View: Escapism? Don't we all need a break sometimes?

"A lot of people don't like their job Peter. What is important is finding something that does make you happy." – Roughly quoted from Office Space

First before I write this post, I want to apologize to the women for butting into their conversation. But I think they've offered a fascinating range of views on the idea of escapism and how people use anime as both a social tool and a personal tool for dealing with life. In fact, they provided so much material that it's had me thinking about it for two days. (Oh and Paul too.)

That said, I find it strange how people use the word escapism. It's not that I totally disagree that entertainment by its very nature provides an out to the harsh realities that surround us every day. Hell, I'm a 31-year-old phone sales rep. After a day of dealing with people the last thing I want to do is deal with more people. But it seems like we've developed a language that divides "real life" into things that are unpleasant and "escapist" life into things that are fun.

There's got to be a middle ground there. There's got to be room where a hobby is a healthy outlet or at the very least as Gia seems to hint at a way for those people who are less socially adept to interact with other people in a fashion that doesn't involve taking people's orders or working on code (I'm not saying that computer programmers are not socially adept, just that there are computer programmers that are not socially adept.)

This is where I'm stuck. Because escapist implies that we use entertainment to get away from our lives.

And yes, I do think there's a level where we enter into the world the creators have developed and I agree that there's a sense of relief when everything works out (or doesn't work out) in the end. But I don't think that we solely use entertainment (or any hobby for that matter) to get away from our lives, but rather so we can have a life.

Before people start freaking out at me, let me explain my thinking on this. Lelangir was quite right when he pointed out a while back that the Otakusphere has a social structure. Now I'm not sure quite how I'd define it or how it works or what affects it has, but there's definitely a social structure there. For there to be a social structure, that would imply that people are socializing. In fact, again as Gia pointed out, there are various different social structures. You have conventions, fanfic, fanart, podcasts, blogs, forums, clubs, etc. What anime gives people in a lot of ways is a common interest and a common language that we can talk about these things.

And like any community there are going to be some people who don't really fit in, but are they any stranger than the guys who slap on body paint and go to the (American) football game? Are they any less socially proficient than the writers in a critique group who say to the people reviewing them that they just don't get it? Are they any more obsessed than the Chris Crockers of the world? And are there really that many more of them in these circles than in those circles? From my experience, I'd say no.

Now certainly this isn't all encompassing. There are definitely those fans that'd rather spend time with their body pillows than with real people. And there are people for whom anime is a habit rather than a hobby. And I certainly don't want to drift into the territory of whether they're the majority or the minority.

But I will risk saying that they're really not using the hobby to its full extent. So while I'll agree that escapism may play a part in the hobby, it's certainly not the end-all-be-all of it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My take on Haruhism

"Yeah, right… What's a cubit?" – Noah to God in a Bill Cosby sketch

I've always had a fascination with religion. Now, I'm not a really religious person, I've just been a bit too skeptical for that, but I don't fault anyone who is. In fact, I tend to find it more a failing with me, rather than a failing with other people.

But it's lead to me finding religion (in particular Christianity) really interesting and by extension various images of God (or Gods) in anime interesting. Now, I'll freely admit I'm not a theologian, and I definitely don't necessarily understand all of the finer points of all religions, but that hasn't stopped me before.

So anyways, I started thinking about this topic while I was watching Haruhi, so I thought I'd offer my take on that first. (Obligatory Spoiler warning.)

On the Nature of the SOS Brigade

Haruhi is God, right? I mean that's what the show pretty much lays out there from the start. Now what I finding interesting about Haruhi as God is that she's almost completely unaware that she is God. In fact, her actions might have somewhat disastrous results, but she's never the victim of them. In fact, there's an active conspiracy to keep the truth away from her because who knows what would happen if she ACTUALLY knew that she was God.

What makes this interesting is that almost every person in the SOS Brigade is a direct creation of Haruhi or at the very least is drawn to her. Now it could be said that they're just scientists hoping to examine the phenomenon that is Haruhi. But from a religious standpoint, they seem more like worshippers. At least one point or another, they all actively work to try to appease her. (Thankfully, they stop short of sacrificing virgins.)

Except for Kyon.

Now when I first started thinking about Kyon and his role, I thought maybe he was a prophet. Kind of like Noah in the Bill Cosby sketch, he was a skeptical prophet, but a prophet nonetheless. But, he just doesn't seem to have the right amount of religious fear. In fact, even though he knows the truth about Haruhi, he rarely acts on it; sometimes he actually aggravates the problem.

Let's face it, Kyon might be a lot of things, but he's definitely not a disciple in the church of Haruhi.

Which left me thinking about how does Kyon fit into this mythology? And more fundamentally, why did Haruhi choose him?

On the Nature of Kyon in the church of Haruhi

One of the things that bothered me the more I thought about this was that even though Haruhi is the one with all of the power, Kyon is the one with all of the knowledge. Like I said, there's an active conspiracy to keep the truth away from her. So she's all powerful, but she's completely ignorant.

On the other hand, Kyon knows what's going on, and the only one who can really act on it. It could be said that he's omniscient (in a sense), but is completely powerless. But he's also the only one who actively opposes Haruhi when she goes too far.

So I'm going to go out on a limb here and say, even though everyone says Haruhi chose Kyon, Kyon also chose Haruhi. It was his actions that lead to the creation of the SOS Brigade. It was his actions that stopped the world from being swallowed up in closed space. And he's the only one who can rein Haruhi in. In the end, Kyon plays the Superego to Haruhi's inexhaustible Id. In fact, it shouldn't so much be the church of Haruhi as the church of Haruhi and Kyon.

Because in Haruhi, I fear. But in Kyon, I trust.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Impressions: Air, Haruhi, Kurau and Innocent Venus

Yeah, so I've watched a lot of stuff lately, most of which I could do something longer on, but I thought I'd just run through my impressions on them.

Air (TV) – This is one of those shows where there was a lot that I liked and some stuff I didn't. I didn't have a horrible time with the fairly lacksidasical pacing. In fact, it reminded me a lot of James Blaylock's In the Rainy Season, another story that combined a somewhat slow pace with somewhat bizarre happenings and had at least one girl in it (albeit in a different fashion.) Overall, I didn't have a problem with the characters, but I didn't fall in love with them either.

But what was up with the last couple of episodes? It just felt like they were trying to make up space. It left me wondering whether the rest of the story was picked up somewhere else, or if it was just going to leave me at that "Lady or the Tiger" moment. Overall, I didn't love it and I didn't hate it. But it just left me feeling a bit empty.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya – Yes, I finally watched this show. And I know I'm the last person on the planet to do so. But, I have to say, why does everyone have a problem with Kyon? Honestly, he was the saving grace of the show. I wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much if it wasn't for the dry rationalism (and the occasional perverted comment) that he brought. It provided a good counterpoint to all of the weird stuff that takes place.

Now I did watch the show in episodic order (versus broadcast order), so I don't know how much that really affected my enjoyment. But I do have to say the Melancholy episodes were probably my favorite, most likely because they formed the longest arc of the show. But the lack of a real resolution to the fundamental question of why she chose Kyon does bug me. All of that said, I do think it's a show that was worth the hype, but not necessarily the best show I've ever seen.

Kurau: Phantom Memory – I swear only BONES could have pulled this series off and made it as good as it was. But somehow they took a fairly simple superhero type character who's getting chased by the government and turned it into a fairly complex psychological drama. Almost every part of this series was well planned and had excellent execution. So I do have to hand it to the director on this one.

All of that said, there's a ceiling on how good this series could be, especially considering the tone they set at the beginning and the plot. And while Kurau surpassed my lowest expectations, it wasn't earth-shattering either. Especially with the amount of times they shouted each other's name. I mean you could have a "Kurau/Christmas" drinking game with this series.

Innocent Venus – And on a more mech side of things, I actually watched Innocent Venus. To be honest, it left me feeling a lot like I felt after watching Blue Submarine No. 6, which is to say it could have been a lot better with some more space. But, it does have one of the coolest betrayals I've seen in an anime in quite a while. It also has some good action scenes and some fun mechs (which actually remind me a bit of the mecha from Argentosoma.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Impressions: Higurashi – tentacles and moe, oh my.

Every now and then I watch a series that makes me go totally fanboy. The last time was when I watched Code Geass.

But it's been a couple months since then and even though I've watched some good series, I hadn't seen anything that actually got me excited (in a completely non-sexual way, thank you very much.)

That was until I watched the first season of Higurashi.

First, I have to say… wow. There is so much to talk about this series. I mean I could talk about the structure (It's broken up into six arcs, two of which are retellings or additional material). I could talk about the really great opening sequence. I could talk about the crazy girls with hatchets as big as they are.

Or I could talk about moe.

Where Elfen Lied tried and failed, Higurashi succeeded in using cute girls as a fa├žade for crazy. Elfen Lied and Higurashi both used moe in similar ways: to set up a cognitive dissonance in the viewer. Basically they're so cute, but so evil. Elfen Lied forced it a bit too far, making the more powerful characters progressively weaker and weaker, until the most powerful (and inhuman) had to be carried out. Higurashi doesn't do that. In fact, the characters become progressively less cute as the story arcs progress. I found this twist on the slice-of-life genre both interesting and… well… Lovecraftian.

Yes, I know that summoning up the ghost of Lovecraft is pretty common when it comes to looking at horror stories.

And to be totally fair, Lovecraft wasn't the first to use the idea of thin veneer of civility covering a wellspring of evil (how you define evil is up to you.) Arguably, Joseph Conrad did it in The Heart of Darkness and Poe did it in the Tell-tale Heart. But where Lovecraft is different is the idea that people are generally sane, it's the world that's crazy.

The structure of a Lovecraft story (for the most part) goes like this: Some random guy encounters strange events/items/things. Guy is driven insane by these. Guy either gets divine retribution or gets sent to an asylum or dies. Story ends. There are some variations to the theme. I mean he wrote a lot.

He did this by creating a completely alien landscape. I'll be honest, the Cthulu mythos is still unlike anything else that I've ever encountered in fiction. You have Elder Gods, who in general like screwing around with people. You have the Old Ones (the giant tentacle things that live in space or in the earth), who are creatures of extreme malevolence. In fact, there really aren't any good things in the mythos he created.

Which is a lot like Higurashi. Now the mythos in Higurashi is a lot more limited, since all of the stories take place in one village and really within the same week or two (although two of the stories dip into the past.) But still you have the Shrine God's curse, which is that someone will die every year. You have the demon that descends from the mountains to take one person every year. There are other elements of the mythos, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't watched the series. (And really, go watch this show. It's still available in it's entirety in fansub form, and since it's one of the Geneon titles that's in limbo, I don't have deep ethical reservations downloading it.)

What I found interesting while I was watching it was the fact that the entire mythos felt alien. Granted, not quite as alien as amorphous, tentacled blobs that live under the sea, but still it felt unusual and unusually cruel. The powers that be didn't care about the lives of the villagers as much as they cared about their own machinations. Now part of that might be part of being an American viewer who isn't really steeped in Japanese religion and folklore, but that is how it struck me.

So what does moe have to do with all of this? (Well other than the fact that moe drives at least one character crazy.) In general, the cutesy character designs acted as a reflection of the "sane" world. Much in the same way that educated (or non-educated) first person narration reflected the "sane" world of Lovecraft.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Otakusphere: Micro-blogging, Identity and an unhealthy dose of navel-gazing.

So I'm going to try to avoid too much navel gazing in the post.

But recently there have been at least a couple posts about the nature of micro-blogging and its place in the Otakusphere.

What I found interesting about both Hige's and Michael's posts is specifically the idea of identity, both the identity of the writer and the identity of the blog. Now everyone takes on different characteristics depending on the role we're playing at a certain point (some people do this more than others.) We're different depending on whether we're at work or if we're at home or if we're with friends or talking to teachers. Now these changes are greater or lesser depending on how drastically different the roles they play are.

Or at least that's how I think about it.

But every writer has an identity. We generally refer to it as a voice, but largely it's something we cultivate. To be honest, I think that's where The Animanachronism's micro blog comes in. It's a little more personal, and it doesn't really fit his identity as a writer (I can't say anything about Owen's because I haven't really read it.) It might provide a scratch pad of sorts for ideas in later posts. But largely, it wouldn't fit into the type of writing that we'd expect from him.

(If you'll permit a little navel-gazing here, I'll try to make it quick.)

Now, this is largely where I fit in. I have an identity as a writer. If someone pinned me down and made me describe it, I'd probably call myself an intellectual plebian. Basically, I'm smart enough to get myself in trouble, but I'm nowhere as smart as say, The Animanachronism, Martin, Hige or Michael. I'm not as good of a writer as bateszi, Hidoshi or CCY. I'm not as funny as Baka-raptor or lolikit. (I apologize if I left anyone out there, because I do think there are an awful lot of good writers in these circles.)

In fact, I'd say the strength of my writing identity comes from two major points. I try to state my point clearly (and forcefully). And I generally take a radically moderate point of view (although sometimes I just take a radical point of view.)

But largely, writers should cultivate a writing identity. Because, most readers read a blog or a column or anything because of the writer. (Or at least I do, so I might be generalizing here.)

Now a blog identity is a different thing. I think there is a good case for having a blog identity. Say if you write episode recaps and that's what people come to your blog expecting to see. Essentially people are creating a brand. This way they'll attract loyal readers. Or as Daniel states in his post, there's a necessity of having standards.

Ironically, by accident and design, this blog doesn't really have a brand in the same way. As most people point out, I tend to cover a wide range of topics. Now I do think that my identity as a writer sometimes shifts a little depending on what I'm writing about, but I'd like to think it remains fairly consistent. In a lot of ways, I'd attract a more loyal crowd if I picked a particular brand for my blog like bateszi has (with Bateszi, Afterimage and his posts in Nakama Brittanica). But unfortunately, I can't seem to reign in the different parts of my brain so I can consistently write one type of piece.

In general though, I'm not sure if it's a good thing to get strangled by your own blog. Because honestly, I'd read what bateszi wrote if he writes it on Afterimage or on Nakama Brittanica or on… well... Bateszi's anime blog. I don't think his identity as a writer shifts enough to really warrant three different blogs.

But that said, I'd read any of those three blogs anyway, so I doubt that it matters.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In My View: My war against derivative

That is it. I've had it.

I'm declaring war against the word, "derivative."

At first, I thought it would fade away. That it would be one of those words that popped into the general lexicon and then fizzled away. I had hoped that smarter minds than mine would prevail. I had secretly prayed that someone, somewhere would raise a red flag and say, "Wait a second here…"

But this word is insidious and I've heard it used more and more often like some sort of mantra to describe why someone didn't like a show. I don't know what murky depths this word crept out of, but it is time to beat it back.

The problem with it is that it is by and large a MEANINGLESS word when it's applied to fiction. Every story on a basic structural level is the same. There's a problem, rising action, climax, resolution and denouement. But maybe that's too general; perhaps I should say almost every mecha show is the same. There's a teenager who encounters a robot who must use said robot to defend the world against the forces of evil. I can trace a direct link from Amaro Rei to Shinji Ikari to Lelouch Lamprouge much like I trace a direct link from Pyramus and Thisbe to Romeo and Juliet.

But no one ever calls Shakespeare a hack, now do they?

The thing is that people use this word as some sort of code sign meaning, "Well it's too much like everything else." But even that is a lame excuse. Honestly, I have to quote iknight from a comment (I think the first he ever left on my blog) on a post I wrote comparing Evangelion to RahXephon.

I'm not convinced that the clone issue is really the key one: RahXephon could be a clone of Eva and still be good, and it could be perfectly different and be awful

And that's the fundamental point these people seem to be missing. A show shouldn't be judged on how much like other shows it is, but on the strength of its characters, plot, themes and things that actually matter. A show can be fundamentally similar to another show and still have things that make it interesting and worth seeing.

But what makes this plague so worrisome is that it sets up an expectation in people's minds that by some magic the show they're going to watch will be something completely new, untainted by the tropes and conventions of whatever genre it might fall into. Those great story ideas come out of some magical spring that is isolated from the rest of the world. And creators would remain uninfluenced by the works that preceded them.

Because of course, they don't need to know how people act, or how a story is structured, or how to create tension. I mean why would they need to know that stuff.

They're creating something new.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

An ethical dilemma: A minor problem with Library Wars Episode Three

Here's an ethical situation for y'all:

You're a reporter standing at an edge of a lake. In the distance, you spot a boy drowning. You have the means and ability to save him and saving him will not have any unintended consequences (he isn't a child Hitler or anything.) There's also no one else around who could save him. What do you do?

Believe it or not, this is really an ethics question I was asked in one of my journalism classes.

Now the ethical thing to do is to save the kid. He IS drowning after all. You can't just let someone drown in the lake. But there's always a follow-up question to this one.

Do you cover the story?

Make no mistake, it is news. If you're lucky it'll be front page, maybe even above the fold. Because as cold and callous as it might be, "If it bleeds, it leads." Now it won't necessarily be the type of story that would make or break a career, but it'd definitely make cutting out the clip a lot easier. And you could probably do a sidebar about water safety. Maybe you could spin it out into a whole week extravaganza.

But ethically, you shouldn't write it because the moment you hit the water you stopped being a reporter and started being part of the story. This means that there isn't any way for you to be fair about it. So while you might get you're fifteen minutes, you aren't getting the byline.

Now the whole reason I brought this up is that there's a moment in episode three of Library Wars where the reporter offered the military the use of the news heliocopter.

Um… yeah.

I know a lot of people think that the media are profiteers off of war. (And make no mistake they are.) That is a line that just shouldn't be crossed. At that point the reporter stopped being an observer of the story and became part of the story.

And trust me, there's no good way to get out of that sticky situation. Once the media actually starts actively funding the war, (which they are. I mean this isn't a humanitarian mission or anything), they can't start funding the other side of the war. So for all intents and purposes the reporter is screwed.

I'm sure there's somebody right now who's saying, "Um… why are you making a big deal about such a small thing?" And in a way that person is right. It's not like I can expect reality out of fiction. But geez. It'd just be more interesting if the media didn't help out.

The thing is that there is an ideological tension in the show between people who believe that a medium should be censored and people who believe that they shouldn't. By having the reporter blithely offer the use of the heliocopter, the show is saying, "Well the news media wants freedom." But if they did the ethical thing (and not gotten involved) that would produce a far more interesting tension between people who want freedom and fight for it. And people who want freedom but don't (or this case shouldn't) fight for it.

But maybe that's just me.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Last Frontier: The reason for my love affair with Macross

So I just finished up episode six of Macross Frontier and I like it.

But I shouldn't.

Not only do I like it, but it's been one of the three shows that I'm following religiously (Amatsuki and InK, being the other two.) It doesn't have the self-referential charm of Tower of Druaga. It doesn't have the weird mind games of Real Drive. And it certainly doesn't have the strangely cute, dystopian view of Library Wars.

Like I said previously, "It's Macross." It definitely has everything that a Macross show should have: an invading alien race, a catchy J-pop soundtrack, dogfights through asteroid fields. But I don't think it's just the action that makes me want to watch every episode. Action is great, don't get me wrong. But I could get action from any shounen fighting show; I don't need space battles to get that.

On top of that, I can't say it's the characters. Sure, Alto is a rebel. But he isn't a Steve McQueen "I'm the epitome of cool" type of rebel. Instead, he's more like an "I'm 18 and I want to go fight in this war, so I can fly" type of rebel. Don't get me wrong, I still think he's a citizen solider (which is interesting), but he doesn't have the moral contradictions of a Lelouch or Suzaku, or the type of heady idealism that I find in Library Wars. In a lot of ways, Alto isn't surprising. And if he's not surprising then Ranka and Sheryl are downright true to form. The entire cast seems like it was lifted straight out of a paint-by-numbers sketch of how a mecha show should go.

But still, I like it. And it's bugging me.

That was until I thought about one of iknight's old posts (complete with a Warren Zevon reference at the end, I might add). Now for a large part, he's right. Macross is a space opera and Macross Frontier is no exception. It comes complete with giant allies, faster than light travel and downright mystical singing abilities. But on top of that, it has something else:

A Camelot.

Now, I'm not sure if Camelot is really the best term for it, but the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that Frontier is a magical place. The streets are clean. Everything is bright and shiny. People are happy and dreams really do come true.

Now one of the big reasons why I think of Camelot, instead of say Avalon, is that Frontier isn't perfect. The government is crippled by red-tape. Mercenaries make up the best equipped fighting force. And there is definitely heart-ache and a touch of pathos.

But I'd still want to live there.

Which is what I think is the big draw for me. It's not necessarily the characters or even the society. It's the fact that there's this place where people coexist peacefully, where music does change lives, and love exists floating through the depths of space in a fragile glass shell.

And somebody wants to destroy it. More than anything else, it's that tension that draws me into the show.

Related Links

Anime wa Bakuhatsu's comparison between Do you Remember Love and Frontier.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Otakusphere: Impz’s brief history of the world (or at least all of the world that matters)

You can blame Impz, Martin, Bateszi, Hige, Lythka, Author and Michael for this post.

Really, I know a collective groan goes up anytime someone starts talking about "the community". But after reading Impz's brief history of the Otakusphere (that's still my word for the anime blogosphere), Kabitizin's interviews and Os's new blogging initiative (which is really cool by the way), it has made me wonder.

Why do we blog?

And I'm not going to talk about why I blog, because frankly, no one cares, but I'm curious about the stories from everyone else. How did you get started? Why did you start? Did you do research or did you just jump in? What type of niche do you try to get into? And probably, most importantly:

What do you get out of it?

As far as the readers of the blogs, who don't have blogs of their own, what do you get out of reading them? Do you normally read for news or opinions or both?

Really, I'd like people to leave comments or leave links to posts of their own. I'm curious.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In My View: Much ado about a loli

Talking about the industry is like having an itch in the middle of my back. I want to scratch it, but I can only reach the edges.

That said, I still want to do it.

Usually I can trust Author to cut through the BS, but even he is jumping on the "What is FUNImation doing?" bandwagon (at least from what I can tell.)

All because they licensed two shows that no one has heard about, and they're releasing one as a box set for the half dozen people who will buy it. And the half dozen more people who will buy it because it's a box set.

Okay… so let's put this into perspective. Yes, licensing Mamotte! Lollipop! doesn't make a whole lot of sense, especially with the way the anime industry is going. But there are at least a few things we don't know. A) How much they paid for it. B) Whether or not they're going to dub it. C) How much they're going to sell it for. On top of that, there's an entirely different way of looking at it. Maybe they licensed it BECAUSE no one's seen it. So it hasn't been tainted by fansubs.

But beyond that, comparing ADV and FUNImation is reasonable. They both throw as many titles against the wall and see whether or not they stick.

Except in FUNImation's case they have (at least twice in the last year.)

One look at the recent, ICv2 list of the "Hottest Titles of early 2008" shows, the company has four of them. And if that's not enough proof, they've reported that the losses to their division weren't because of FUNI, but because of BCI Films. They also have 27 percent of the market share. Now they could be lying about all of that. But somehow (in this post-Enron world), I doubt it. If there's one thing FUNImation isn't doing right now, it's hurting. Well at least not anymore than the rest of the industry is hurting right now.

Now since BEI seems to be everyone's darling at the moment, let me remind people of some facts. First, Haruhi flopped. At least that's what Eric Sherman said back in November and I haven't seen any change in that. Lucky Star (no matter how good or bad it is) will likely follow suit. (It is number 71 on Amazon.com's list of top selling Anime and Manga, for what it's worth.) In fact, I'm curious why they even bothered licensing it. So they have two titles that are likely to do well, Code Geass and Gurren Lagann. I mean has anyone stopped to wonder why a company which has licensed maybe two things a year for the past three years suddenly is releasing so many titles?

But I can't say they're really hurting either.

But really, I like playing this game. So my big winner so far:

VIZ.

Yes, VIZ. Right now, they're releasing Death Note, Naruto, Bleach and Pokemon. Not to mention that they have a pretty firm foothold in the manga market. I mean if I were a betting man, that's who my money would be on.

But that's just me.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Otakusphere: Civil Liberties, Dead Titles and Living Monkey Armor

Yeah, for those of you who don't know, I'm a radical Civil Libertarian. And when I say radical I mean "no closed door meetings, destroy the FCC, try the prisoners in Gitmo and let the Nazi's march" type of radical Civil Libertarian.

So when I read usagijen's post on Library Wars, I just about got up ran around my apartment screaming, "Yes, yes, yes, you fricken rock!"

And then I remembered that my roommate's asleep.

Working at six o'clock in the morning must really suck. It's been a long time since I had to do that, but what must be worse is going into work and finding your job has been replaced by a monkey. And not somebody who looks like a monkey, but a real monkey.

Alafista has a report (with video) of a bar that just started having a monkey serve drinks. Really, now if they could just train them to simultaneously link hands to form living monkey armor, the world would be a better place to be.

Just imagine being guarded by a horde monkeys at your beck and call.

Anyways, in the WTF category, Borderline Hikkomori has a post up about FUNImation releasing some show that no one has heard about, and the people who have heard about it, don't care. Really though, I have a sneaking suspicion that they picked it up for bargain basement prices. As much as I'd like to suspect the industry of stupidity, for the most part FUNI's been pretty smart about their licenses. I mean they do have at least four of the top selling anime of the beginning of 2008.

Now if they could just start working on that living monkey armor.

And on a more painful note, I just came across this post on How a Girl Figures. I'd heard about how much money figurines sap out of you. But Jiminy Christmas. See this is why I appreciate super_rats and Happy Soda - all of the fun of seeing a figurine, none of the pain.

And one final note… living monkey armor, just think about it. All of the cool of monkeys, all the use of armor.

Wait, no. Okay, so on a real final note, voting for the Anime Blog Awards is wrapping up. And vote for DrmCshr0 for best Dorama. It's certainly some of the most intelligent.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Case of the Invisible Parent: A Mother’s Day Post

(Note: This is part of the ABC Mother's Day Extravaganza)

So a while back, CCY did a post about the reasons why parents seem to be missing from anime. Now, I think he laid out a reasonable explanation. Anime (at least the anime most of us watch) is geared at a 15-23 year old demographic. But I also thought the answer might be even simpler than what he laid out.

Those parents simply aren't important in most of these stories.

I mean if you have six to twelve hours to tell a fairly complex story, adding in the extra complication of parents could derail the story, or just add another subplot that doesn't get fully developed and ends up hanging around at the end of the tale without a resolution.

Then I started thinking about Beck.

When I initially watched the show, I was struck by the fact that Koyuki's mother was quite literally invisible. Even though he's living with her, he hardly seems to talk with her. The few times when we hear from her, it's her telling him to turn down his music. And the one time that we see her we don't even see her face.

Now overall, the show has a tendency to avoid face shots of characters, which aren't important any more. In a lot of ways it reminded me of Dickens conveniently killing off characters who didn't serve a purpose anymore (as opposed to Red Shirts whose entire purpose is to get killed.) On a completely story telling level, this makes a lot of sense. I mean they WERE just dead weight in the story.

Then I started thinking about a short story I read a long time ago called Obst Vw (it stands for Obstructed View).

It's been a while since I read the story, but basically it follows two teenagers who are estranged (in the non-legal sense) from their parents. Now most of the tension occurs between the two teens, but there's this invisible presence in the story of the main character's father. Even though we barely see him throughout the course of the story.

This got me to wondering; maybe she was important after all. I mean, she's a definite presence in the story. In fact, it becomes a running theme that we'll get a Walton's-like shot out of the outside of the house with Koyuki's light on, and then her saying to turn down the music. The people, who sneak into the house, don't just come in the front door, but creep up through his window. And the one time we do see her (still faceless) she's trying to impart some pretty sage advice.

That's when I realized, it wasn't that she wasn't important. It was just that she wasn't immediately important.

In fact, it's trying to get at something that seems to get truer the older I get. That these people, who drift in and out of our lives like ghosts, are important. And although they may seem like part of the faceless masses surrounding us, they still have a presence (whether we see it or not.)

And at the risk of being sappy, isn't that what Mother's Day is all about.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Impressions: Saiunkoku, Kurau, Baccano!, Amatsuki, Real Drive, Druaga and more.

So I went to smoking roll-your-own cigarettes so I could buy more anime. I'm not sure if it's a good thing, but I sure do have Haruhi sitting on top of my TV just waiting for me to watch it, but anyway on too some impressions.

Saiunkoku Monogatari: Since it seems that no one has seen this show, I figured I'd give people a little heads up. It's a show about a girl who's family has fallen on hard times. She's decided that she wants to buck the system and become a government official. So I finished the first season of this and… it's okay. On the good side, it has some awesome characters, a fairly interesting "love" story and enough tension to pull me pretty effortlessly through every episode after episode fourteen. On the other hand, reverse harems are about as tiring to watch as actual harems. Towards the end, it's just a bunch of them standing around saying, "Oh Shuurei is so great." It got old, fast. And it has the tendency of getting right up to the climax and then skipping it. So good enough that I'd watch the second season. Not good enough that I feel like gushing over it.

Kurau: Phantom Memory: You know BONES could take crap and make it sparkle (at least from what I've seen.) Now, Kurau's not anything special plot-wise. It starts like a superhero story and right now it's a superhero story mixed with The Fugitive. But the characters are still interesting. And the credits say the story was by BONES, so… take that for what you will. But the director seems like this is really his first time directing, but he's done a lot of storyboarding and other stuff for the studio.

Baccano!: I don't think I ever did a proper statement on this show. But on the one hand, it's awesome and I really don't know why this show hasn't been licensed in the United States. I mean it's practically made to sell to a Western audience. On the other hand, the multiple plotlines and massive cast of characters does end up making the show feel like it's trying to do too much with too little space. It's a fun watch, but I can't say it's an amazing show.

Amatsuki: And now for a show that didn't come out years ago, but still no one's talking about. So far this is one of my favorite shows of the Spring season. Its got swords. Its got demons. Its even got classy fanservice (if such a thing exists.) And it has a complete and utter lack of a whiny boy hero. I know that I don't have any taste, but seriously, this is a solid show that doesn't try to do more than what it sets out to do. And surprise, surprise the director on this one worked on Rurouni Kenshin (both the TV series AND the OVAs). And ironically… Real Drive.

Real Drive: I'm still not completely sure about this one. So far, I've watched the first four episodes and they're solid. I just don't know how they're going to support another 22 episodes with it. But I really like the main character, who was a diver who got into an accident and slept until he was an old man. I kind of like the sidekick girl. She's cute, but a little flat so far. But so far, not bad, not great, but definitely watchable.

Tower of Druaga: I have to agree with Coburn on this one. This show is awesome. I mean its tongue-in-cheek funny. And thankfully it never takes itself so seriously that I can't enjoy it.

Itazura na Kiss: Honestly, I shouldn't like this show. I mean Kotoko is so incompetent it's downright insulting. Naoki is a jerk. The little brother deserves a solid kick in the rear end. But… I still keep coming back for more. And I'm not sure why I enjoy it so much, but I do.

Macross Frontier: It's Macross. It's cool. Sheryl is one of the few anime women who I will say is hot. Enough said about that one.