FREE food for thought

All right, I have an editorial blog, so I guess there is no way around writing something about FREE, the new KyoAni anime. Also, something about moe, or whatever.

All right. First of all, here is some advice.

  1. If you want to tell your interpretation of how “everyone” or the “otakudom” is completely wrong in the show’s reception, you need to take a step back, go to a forum thread or a blog aggregator or a large comment section, and count 100 reactions to FREE’s announcement. If you truly confirmed that everyone (or even most people) reacted the same way, go ahead. But there is only one thing that is more annoying than a one-sided debate, and that is a many-sided debate where absolutely everyone has a persecution complex, and a conviction that they are alone with their opinion. 
  2. If you want to talk about the meta-discussion of how there is more debate about the debate of FREE than there is debate about FREE, head over to omonomomo. He got it covered.

 

Personally, what I found most interesting, is how obviously this the outrage is happening in our western side of the otakudom, as much as the feminist defense and the anti-moe outcries. In the video gamer community, the past monhs have been all about dragging the geek subculture’s underlying sexism, and misogyny to the spotlight, to admit that WE have a problem.

So far, the anime fandom mostly deflected any such accusations by dumping them on the Japanese otaku. WE, the classy western anime fans, would like more gender  equality, and less sexual objectification, and less moe (whatever the hell that means),  it is the dirty, moe-obsessed, hug pillows-buying, eroge-playing Japanese otaku’s fault that the industry is still backwards.

To see actual western anime fans lose their shit about one particular anime having sexualized guys in it, is an interesting reminder that WE as a fandom still have a problems, or maybe they are not real problems, let’s just leave that inconclusively,  but in either case, you can’t just explain away accusations of sexism with xenophobic stereotypes about Japan.

You know what’s awesome?

Past days, I’ve been busy writing an essay for college. Specifically, for an elective class called political science fiction.

I chose to write about Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and the democratic soldier’s the choice between following the letter of the constitutional process and doing what needs to be done.

How awesome is that? Too bad it’s all in Hungarian, so I can’t just copy it in here. It was basicaly about Yang Wen-li’s dilemma about being that much more competent than the democratically elected government that was fucking around with him.

Anyways, you know what’s awesome? Legend of the Galactic Heroes. 

 

So go and watch it.

 

Attack On The Flowers of Originality

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So, Aku no Hana. And it’s art style.

It’s unique art style.

The two major camps in the reactions to it, seem to be divided as either “it’s great that something is challenging the sameness of anime, and everyone who hates this is a moefag” or “This one is not just different or artistically ugly, but badly executed, so we are hating it anyways”

I’m going to ignore that second defense now, since I neither know, nor care enough about the details of animation technology to decide whether Aku no Hana is “objectively bad”. Let’s just talk more about the first problem, whether or not we need more originality in animation styles, than what we usually have nowadays.

Two seasons ago, I wrote a pair of posts about originality and clichés, shown through the first episodes of Zetsuen no Tempest, and K. Using K as an example of a show that is trying so hard at surprising us with the “macro-innovation” of an unrecognizeable genre, plot, and setting, that really it just feels rootless and unpleasantly alien, while Zetsuen no Tempest is comfortably setting up a tale as old as time, about love and revenge and saving the world, that felt comfortably familiar, while it had enough “micro-innovation” in it’s execution to still feel exciting.

While I said this about writing and narratives, this time, I think most of the same points applies to animation styles as well: Much of the confusion that we have about whether or not we need to respect Aku no Hana’s direction, boils down to whether or not we need macro-innovation of anime, that is, entirely flipping the table and producing something never seen before, or we should be content with minor twists inside the established basics of the anime style.

Even though that latter probably isn’t brought up often enough. Listening to some of Aku no Hana’s supporters, you would believe that every anime between this and Mushishi looked exactly the same.

2012

Pictured: “the anime style” in 2012

Which is, of course, a big oversimplification. Fujoshi shows look different from slice-of-life moe shows. Shonen fighters look different from melodramatic romances. And then we have the actual quirky innovation, like KyoAni’s excessive production values put into shows like Nichijou and Hyouka, or Shaft’s surrealism, or Jinrui‘s watercolor style, or Shingeki no Kyojin‘s surprisingly thick outlines for a high budget show. These are all examples of micro-innovation, used to guarantee that all anime doesn’t look exactly the same.

The problem with praising Aku no Hana’s style as an Original one, is that it’s overstating the importance of macro-innovation against the gradual changes that make most other anime interesting. Looking at the above picture, you can find certain similarities between all these styles.  But these are all the most fundamental, reasonably expected demands of appealing charcter art, the cornerstones of character design, that people find appealing. Just as you could find vague similarities in their narrative tropes, but those are the cornerstones of what themes can interest viewers.

Of course, Aku no Hana is not trying to be appealing. Just like the original Flowers of Evil, it’s intentionally trying to be alienating, strange, ugly. And that’s fine. there are always some artists who are trying to make a point against the entire world. I guess they are important, in some abstract sense, but exactly because they are criticizing the entire system, they will never actually be constructive. People will watch Aku no Hana, like it or hate it, and then go back to watching” normal anime”. They are are not ging to change their minds, and decide that from now on cute is ugly and ugly is cute, or that they don’t like the “anime style”‘s paradigms at all. Because if that would be the case, they wouldn’t be anime fans in the first place.

Only micro-innovation can change that, with subtle changes over a long time.

What makes Japanese cartoons “anime”?

What is anime? All animation from Japan? All animation of a certain style? Then what about Japanese animation outside of that style? What about the international productions?  An old debate, that is surprisingly common in more ad-hoc anime viewer groups; youtube comments, gamer forum threads, and personal discussions,  and rarer in the blogosphare, on anime-themed sites, and in other groups self-identifying as the “academic” opinion leaders of otaku culture.

Maybe it’s because the latter doesn’t want to deal with something that is seen as the petty whining of obsessive-compulsive categorizers. Or maybe because after a certain amount of anime watched, the borderline cases will start to appear more and more clearly fitting into one group anyways.

It’s easy to believe that Avatar or Teen Titans are exactly like anime, when all the “other anime” that you have watched, is limited to Death Note, Naruto, and Elfen Lied. Then as your MAL is growing several hundred titles long, you will start to detect hundreds of little differences between them that you might not even consciously notice or at least you couldn’t describe, like the different emphasis on lip-synching, the details of background scenery or in shadow effects, and the exact way faces are drawn. (beyond just “small noses and big eyes” (Because seriously,that’s about the most generic description you could give for pretty much every cartoon ever)).

And then the plot starts, and it’s even more obvious that there are plenty of fundamental differences between how a western and a Japanese writer would think about storytelling. Even when they are actively trying to imitate each other.

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Quitting anime (not)

For the first time ever since 2009, when I got into the anime fandom, I spent the past two months not watching anime.  And now I’m back.

I’ve learned a lot about the sometimes scary, hardly understood phenomenon of Fandom Quitting Syndrome, or at least about how it could apply to me. Blogs die, usernames drop out from forums, faces change at conventions,  and as long as we are still here, we can only speculate about whether we will eventually also get bored with anime, whether it’s a natural part of growing older, and whether there is an easy trick to trick our brain into avoiding it.

Yet, unlike most others, I got a second chance to come back and describe what happened.

You see, back in January, I skipped an episode of Psycho-Pass. It was exam time at school, and I simply didn’t have the time to watch it for a whole week. But I intended to continue it later, so on that week, I avoided most episodic blogs as protection from spoilers. There was only one little flaw in my plan: As my blog reading material drastically dropped, I had less and less reason to keep checking my RSS feed. And I usually use my RSS feed to reind me when there is a new episode.  I think you see where this is going. Like a snowball groving ito an avalanche, or fluctuations in how a few cars are breaking causing a traffic jam, the effects of skipping a few traditions grew day by day.

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What measure is a psycho?

Psycho-Pass, episode 11-13

As every viewer suspected, the Sibyl system is flawed. But that flaw isn’t just a technical detail, that it doesn’t accurately measure everyone, or a moral dilemma about “thought crime”, like in Minority Report, that it incriminates people who didn’t do anything, but a huge elephant in the living room that Makishima pointed out in episode 11:

“And how do you define a crime to start with?” 

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The depths of a niche

The anime fandom is a pretty narrow interest group. The kind of present day late night TV anime that you and I tend to focus on, are an even more obscure interest. In the past few weeks, I have  been thinking about this: at what point does an interest become too narrow? Does it ever reach a point, where you just have to take  a step back, and realize that you are obsessing over something that is insignificant in context?

Oh, no, it never does!“, you say. “Fandoms are all about enjoying yourself, and being entertained, so as long as this is fullfilled, all interests are equal!” This is how the niche fandom justifies itself. “That being well-versed in something like ancient greek plays or Russian romanticist literature is treated as something valuable, while “obsessing” over anime  is dismissed, is just because of an arbitary social prejudice. As long as you are content with your actions, they have the same inherent value”. 

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Reviewers failing at objectivity

Every judgement about a show’s overall quality, has some inherently subjective elements. Whether the basic setting is interesting, whether the heroine is cute enough (or too cute), whether the jokes are funny. We aren’t even pretending to be more right about these than others. (Except for the ones who are building up a comically arrogant “my opinion > your opinion” persona).

And then, there are some cases where we are pretty confident that we must be right about measuring the clues of quality in a tangible way. About whether or not the plot made sense, about it’s number of unresolved plotlines, about the visual quality…

…about it’s amount of kittens…

and then, we have these reviews and first impressions about Little Busters pouring in:

 

 

The initial scenes are attention-grabbing and expertly used to the episode’s advantage, successfully capturing the interest of even someone like me who went into the show fully expecting to hate it. Music aside, JC Staff’s production on this title is quite admirable and unusually high quality by their standards. The voice acting and aforementioned direction are great, while the art and animation remain above average at all times (believe me, that’s high praise for something by JC Staff).

Froggle – Animation Revelation 

As expected, the second episode was an excellent fit to the first episode; we know the characters better, what situations have arisen, and what will likely happen next. The show sprinkles some foreshadowing around, so while we know that some plot is headed our way, it’s still ambiguous what it is. J.C. Staff is sticking closely to the visual novel, almost scene by scene. Can’t really mess that up.

Amoirsp – Desu ex Machina

Sure enough, Little Busters! is far from phenomenal. The second episode was downright painful to watch because I could notice the potential of the jokes lifted from the VN, and yet much of their momentum was lost due to incompetent execution. The sub-par graphical look is a pity as well, as traditionally JC Staff has at least been able to deliver decent visuals if nothing else.

NovaJinx – Jinx!

If you’ve seen a good JC Staff project – Ano Natsu for example – you know what to expect here. Pretty fluid animation, and pretty good depth of field in the backgrounds – a trade-off, to some extent, for the typical JC Staff muted color schemes and soft focus. If it lacks the vibrancy, minute detail and ridiculous smoothness of a top KyoAni project, LB also has very good character designs that go beyond the over-the-top kawaii of KyoAni’s Key adaptations.

Guardian Enzo – Random Curiosity

As for Little Busters, it has its problems story-wise, but most of the problems are related to the direction and editing. And it is baaaaddddd. Simply put, it’s not fun to riff on an anime that is incompetently put together rather than just having a terrible story. Word of advice, never trust a director whose works include something called Kill Me Baby.

flawfinder- Standing on my Neck

You get pretty much the same wherever you look. From people speaking in hyperbole about how unwachably ugly it is and J.C. Staff isn’t even trying, to people praising them for being almost but not quite as good as KyoAni, with every other opinion in-between. About how the great music is “compensating” for the bad visuals, and how the music is lazily and uneffectively thrown in.

I’m not commenting on any of these specifically, but there is something amusing about how  collectively, we can’t even look at the shows that J.C. Staff usually does, then at Little Busters, and decide whether it looks much better, much worse, or about the same.

Just sayin’.

 

 

Rape season!

So it has come to this. From this new season, we already have two shows that brought in major rape themes, and one other  that had a throwaway rape comment causing a major shitstorm. In case you missed one of them:

  •   The first episode of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun had a scene, where the socially clueless and sometimes unpredictably silly male protagonist suddenly grabbed the heroine, covered her mouth, dragged her to an alley, and said “if you make one sound I will rape you”. Then she nodded, and they had amusing random adventures together.
  •    The first episode of Psycho-Pass demonstrated the police team’s job, and the sci-fi setting’s functioning, with the case of a psychotic madman on the run, who kidnapped and raped one passerby woman during the episode. The same psycho-pass meters that first warned the police that the man is about to go crazy, now also marked the rape victim as unstable. After even more traumatic experiences, she was so screwed up that she almost had to be put down (according to the same psycho-pass system), but then the newbie protagonist policewoman managed to calm her down and merely institutionalize her.
  •    The second episode of Btooom! presented the backstory of the heroine Himiko, as the following: she got involved with a band of obviously dangerous-looking boys, and introduced her girlfriends to them. Later they invited the girls to their apartment. Himiko got there last, and found two of the girls raped and unconscious, while the third one was crying to her for help. She ignored the cries, escaped and called the police, who arrested the rapists.  The three girls were transferred to another town and the friend she abandoned now hates her for it. Then Himiko got to the video game island where there are no rules. There she almost got raped by a fat smelly loser, and felt that this is her punishment for her crimes, but then activated a bomb, choosing to kill both of themselves rather than getting raped. The fat loser saw that and tried to  run away, so she threw the bomb after him.
  •    Oh, and there were two other shoujo shows, with lots of nonconsensual kissing, and bishies pinning girls against walls in that typical bishie pose, and generally acting shoujo-ish.

So, yeah. Rape has been discussed in the aniblogosphere a lot recently. First of all, let’s clarify my own stance: I don’t think, that rape should be held to any different standard than other kinds of violence. Explicit glamorization of rape porn is not different from explicit glamorization of violence. Black comedy gags about rape are not different from any other black comedy gags. And gratuitous Rape as Backstory isn’t more offensive than any other badly executed gratuitous tragedy.

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Zetsuen no Tempest – The expectation blaster

I am no ordinary blogger: My dreams come true! Just after I finished writing my bitching about K being too pointlessly original, here is the best first episode of the season I have seen so far, from Zetusen no Tempest, demonstrating everything that I just said.

Zetusen no Tempest has it all: Dead little sisters, a secret society of mages, the looming end of the world, an obsessive antihero… and it works! The orchestra music, the ham acting, the Shakespeare quotes, and the rawness of the plot add up to a feeling of a larger-than-life heroic epic,  much in the same way as the apples and the Dies Irae chants in Death Note give a mystical effect, or the classical music and Prussian costumes make LogH appear as deep and sophisticated.

It also helps, that it didn’t try to shove dozens of made-up words, and yet unknown characters in my face. Too many shows feel the need to give some sort of hook to make me watch the next episode, to prove that they have lots of content figured out, and show that I’m being thrown into deep water, and they do that by hinting at lots of backstory, and presenting incomprehensible character motivations. But the ting is, that I don’t need that. I already know that stuff will happen in the following episodes, because that’s what stuff does: It happens. I don’t need to leave an episode with quastions like “how did those giant swords appear over the city”, or “why is this character supposed to be the protagonist acting so strange”. You can just show me the premise of Mahiro, Yoshiro, and Hakaze fighting against evil mages, with good presentation and writing, and I will make the assumption that twists and turns will follow them on their adventure.

Thanks.