Review: End of Summer 2011 Season and Still Standing

As we’re closing in to the end of 2011, we are entering the end game. The game to end it all. The time to both looking forward to how the prophecy would turn out as well as dreading any of the possible outcomes that have been secretly laid beneath the waves of time since the ancient times…

Ya, sure! The serious truth is that the Summer 2011 Anime Season is coming to an end, and some new shows from the fall are starting. And here at AD, we still don’t have ONE f’ing preview post for Fall 2011 Season up. To be honest, I don’t even have a goddamned clue how to distinguish the Fall and Winter seasons of anime, because although the shows that begin in late September / early to mid October always goes into early next year, which makes it confusing to me (Winter of 2011??? You mean Spring of 2012??? Don’t we go by temperature????). But anyways,

This has been a strange year and this summer has been a strange summer. Here we go:

 

Kamisama Dolls – What can I say? This show really showed promise. But dramedy is bad unless the show is called “Gintama”.

I know I said I really liked this show and I didn’t have any bias toward it. However, after several discussion with Mike, I realized that I was just bullshtting myself. I wanted real, undiluted drama after all – that is, if I’m already watching more than 3 episodes of a 12 episode show, and it shows dramatic potential from time to time. But there is the problem. It’s only potential and not a completion.

I really like the arc (do two episodes constitute an “arc”?) where we learn why Kyohei and Aki seems to be perfect enemies to each other, and just why is it that Aki is so obsessed with Kyohei and why Kyohei hates him so much. In the hands of the old Gainax, dealing with an older Otaku audience who saw the glorious Eva and of course, classic Gundam (forget the copout endings of Gundam Seed Destiny and Gundam 00), this could’ve been another powerful and raw exploration of deep and dark emotional stuff. Of course, we’d have to put up with Anno-angsty stuff and psudo (even lame-o) religious symbols that allowed Mike to have his field days just picking it apart. But at least, the emotions fully exploded, the characters deeply developed, and the pain really defined a lost generation of young folks in Japan, and ignited a new genesis in fujishi-dom. But the point is that, although disjointed in the first half, Eva was consistently emotionally raw and psychologically demanding. All the babble aside, Eva’s second half was great at what it did. It left all the lame-ass humors and references behind and went straight for the heart (corny line, I know).

Back to Kamisama Dolls. There have been times where that raw emotion, the anger, and all that real drama that shined. Together with Ishikawa Chiaki‘s sad ballads, the thread weaved among Kyohei, Aki, the teacher, and the village was almost perfectly sewn. I mean, the director went a little heavy-handed and made the barely involved boobnaut Hibino shed a obvious silent tear, which just ruined the balance. But other than that, the plot among the three aforementioned people made me sit up and take real notice. Unfortunately, the show then goes back to wavering among comedy, fan service, some drama, little angst, and so on. You want something that can juggle all that stuff right? Watch Gintama. This show is not Gintama and it never really decided to be brave and go down a single path. I get the feeling It wanted to define this generation, but in the end, because it was too cowardly to charge down a set path and failed to impress many. That’s why we have the last episode that obviously scream: there could’ve been more had more people cared to watch!

Bottomline: it’s a watered-down drama that makes cowardly young Otakus breath sighs of relief for they don’t have to deal with real and painful stuff.

 

Blade – great for US Sunday mornings, so-so for hardcore Otakus.

Now here is a small gem. Not that it’s a diamond in the rough, but a small gem that shows precisely why Madhouse and Marvel collaboration failed miserably and why fucking Madhouse should’ve listened to people who loved Claymore and make a second season of Claymore. Disagree? Let’s see you buy all the Blu-ray (DVDs just don’t make a strong testament of your fan fever) of the following collaborative efforts – Iron Man, Heroman, Wolverine, X-men, plus Blade – when they come out in the US or your country. For me, Blade is actually a better show, albeit only ever so slightly better, than the other ones. At least Blade talks and the show has a real plot. Even though every element in this plot is predictable, the plot itself is at least watchable. Blade doesn’t just fight every other scene; he reminisces long enough to let all the newcomers of Blade (remember, this show is aimed toward the Japanese) to understand the back story. Also, he shows adequate  intelligence in dealing with others.

However, the animation, the music, not to mention the character chemistry, just don’t cut it. And I don’t need to see Wolverine and Kikyou making guest appearances; I suspect great shows outside of Clampverse don’t need outside character supports. Blade is bad ass, all right, and he’s a brother. That’s refreshing to me. But they gotta make the show better than this mediocre stroll in the park. the final three episodes were pretty good, but overall, the show only makes a good American Sunday morning cartoon, but not much as an anime. It certainly doesn’t impress this Otaku veteran.

Bottomline: I do recommend a viewing of it. But I suspect you may not care to watch it a second time.

 

Blood C – (Edit: this show sucks. There’s too much blood and gore) Uh…Catching up to the current trend in Japan of discovering that everything is just a conspiracy game can be is bad.

Damnit! It’s a show with Nana-chan in it! By default, I’d give any show with Nana-chan in it an automatic pass and heaps of biases. I’d praise it like I’d praise shows that I love only for certain elements while knowing they suck. And this show has Nana-chan  voicing the main character! On top of that, it’s a production IG work with what I felt was great animation most of the time, minus the usual face-deforms done by the subcontractors. Also, the plot seems to be interesting enough. Amnesia, conspiracy, intrigue, mysteries about the town…This is supposed to be a winning formula for the often lackluster summer season! But the bleeding started. Oh yes, I’m talking about the kill ’em all episode, where all the characters we came to care for just fucking died miserably, and there was Saya, holding her fucking head and just can’t turn red-eyed and Shiki-awesome asskicking. She moaned and wobbled around like a stumbling bum, barely surviving the episode and holding the fort down. And then later, as I unfortunately suspected, it all turned out to be a conspiracy straight out of the current Japanese dramatic trend of shows about trickery and mystery games.

I mean, yeah OK, at the end of day, even without having to force a Mizuki Nana-banzai! bias, it’s not a bad plot. It’s competently done, and I was fairly impressed with the characters and how they interacted. But the curse on me is that I have a strong nature toward distrust and suspecting things, so after a while, I wondered if the owner of the Cafe and the teacher aren’t some part of a huge conspiracy messing with Saya. I even thought, hell! The owner must be the final boss!

And I curse myself for not turning my brain off in advance, and figuring things out. I do hope the last episode will have a great twist. (Update: NO Twist…sigh…it was just a bloodbath to the end…)

Bottomline: This is also worth a viewing avoiding, but the mileage will vary greatly. Nana-chan Banzai!!!

(Edit: Oh and, EXCESSIVE BLOODINESS IS EXCESSIVE!!!)

 

Baka Test 2 – Decide to be serious is OK but awkward.

All right, this is the show out of all the shows I watched that hits the consistency mark. It’s funny in most episodes, the timing is still great and the gags are humorous. That what the show does best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s what it aims for most of the time. However, with the introduction of drama, a problem arises.

I just can’t mix and mesh it all together in my mind.

I mean, now I think about it, the dramatic episode about Minami is brilliant. It’s frank and shows the difficult road, full of misunderstanding, that Minami had to face when she first returned to Japan. Just forget the god-awful English and the entire episode shows some mastery of mis-en-scene, juxtapose, and other stuff that the show itself favors. This show seems to be full of Shinboism and doesn’t saturate the screen with pointless Dali-image-copycats.

But the whole season just doesn’t mesh well together. It just seems a little jarring to me.

Bottomline: This season is either brilliant or awkward. Again, the mileage will vary.

 

Kamisama no Memocho – hurrying is bad, mmmk?

Sigh…I get it, they’re testing the waters with a 12-episode run, to see how people like it. And yeah, it’s quite likable. The scooby-doo gang detective team of “NEETS” doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb. Narumi, the main guy, is sensible and likable enough. The white haired gang leader as well as his old friend in two of the episodes can get some sympathy (and fujoshi screams) out of the audience. Alice, the NEET detective, is moe and lovable. Ayaka is cute and energetic. Ming-san…well, there’s a waste of character potential. But she’s not awful.

And that’s the problem – the show doesn’t do that much. It’s not great and it’s not awful. It just feels like a shadow of something. That, it definitely is. As an avid reader of the novel and having seem all the arcs fully expanded and in the right order, I really can’t stand how much of all the important but not flashy bits are cut out for the sake of TV length restriction. I love the novel, despite its humble beginning and nearly indistinguishable whisper from the noisy world. It grew on me and I came to care for the characters. The TV show, while having good animation, decent music and pretty good voice acting, just doesn’t cut it. But for what it tries to do, it meets the goal.

Bottomline: Read the novel if you can find a version somewhat floating on the net or if you’re fortunate enough, in your local comic shop / bookstore. If not, the anime is likable enough. It just won’t stick with you.

 

Nekogami – this shows heart! It just gets ignored by the majority.

Here’s a real little gem of this season. And it is upheld by two great seiyuu, namely Horie Yui and Tomatsu Haruka. I’ll simply get to the point: it’s a cute little slice-of-life drama that gets it right by hiring the right people to do the right job, and it matches all elements perfectly. Bits and pieces of this small tale about a seemingly useless Cat goddess gently and joyfully add up to a good, short story concerning the daily lives of common people and dare I say, common gods. Having down to earth characters, these gods and goddess could truly be your neighbors in a warm, small town. Their presence may not create earth-shattering dramas and great heroics, but they being there sure makes you smile. The pre-arc and the main story of how Yuuzu took over the family business is really touching. It made me go “awww.”

Bottomline: God must be tired. But Good job!

 

R-15 – it’s shamelessly focused and un-bashfully pleasing! No pretend-plots!

Gosh, it’s so raunchy, isn’t it? I mean the main guy really doesn’t have any redeeming values, and he’s a genius at writing porn novels! But it’s the second part of the last sentence that makes this absurd show not so absurd. After all, it never takes itself seriously and it’s proud of that! No stupid dramedy, just comedy and comedic romance. No sudden turn into serious territory, just a slow development of fondness between the porn novelist and the flute player. It’s quite a match, wouldn’t you say? XD This show knows it will sell based on its silliness and IT’S UNCENSORED PANTIE SHOTS and NAKED GIRLS ON BLU-RAY VERSION. But take all that aside, and you see a well-executed ero-comedy with fun and quirky characters that generate great chemistry. They’re practically electric at their best! Ritsu, Taketo’s MALE best friend, has not failed to make me chuckle with his mistakes about Taketo’s intentions toward him. And Taketo has a personality, not to mention is a funny guy. The pacing is quick, with nothing ever dragged on and no heavy-handedness. The humor is fast and gets to the point. No Otaku-only insider jokes that really can miss; no desperate attempts for drama; no wavering among seriousness and wackiness. I dunno why, but it just does what it does the best. And it manages to do it right just about every episode.

Bottomline: to watch this show, ignore the fan service and enjoy its refreshing ecchi-comedy.

 

Mayo Chiki – Damn good comedy!

Oh yes, together with R-15, this show makes to the top for one of the best comedies of this season. Although some of the neta (jokes, tropes, whatnot) can be rather culture specific (3, 2, 1…Nakuru Nakuru XD), it’s mostly funny. Bright, light, fast paced, it’s makes a wonderful relaxing watch. It’s also another twist on the classic anime plot – a guy who is super shy around women, and some times even get rashes / nose bleeds / panic attack / masochistic cravings. There is actually not too much to talk about plot-wise, but the chemistry among the seiyuu certainly works well. And the 2D girls are cute, and so are their real life counter parts.

Bottomline – An A+ watch for ecchi comedic laughs!

 

Sacred Seven – At least make it fun or grow a personality…

OK, here’s Sunrise’s/Bandai’s problem: it wants to make original shows from time to time, but when it misses, it just sucks bad. Sacred Seven is a show that shows some promise. Evil rocks, powerful heroes that could fall into the dark side; A rich and pretty girl crazy about saving the world for the sake of her little sister who’s frozen in time…

If only the show did something that broke the stone coffin that encased it. I can picture Bandai (sponsor and the real owner of Sunrise) telling the director, producer and the staff: “Make it big, but not so huge that people who dislike huge will hate it; make it pretty, but not so beautiful that people who wants ruggedness get offended; make it dramatic, but not hurt the weak and young Otaku who can barely deal with the real world; and finally, make it easy on the eyes…and stick with THAT so WE CAN SELL MERCHANDISE to boys and fujoshi girls!!!”

Its formulaic good guys and almost disappearing bad guys just don’t cut the stone. And the show goes stone cold after episode 3. Look, doing all the standard trope that include a high school, a maid commando team, couple of handsome and tall fellas and a otherworldly beautiful rich girl is perfectly OK. Haruhi had things like those (save the rich part and the maid commando team – there was only one “maid”), and there have been other shows that did those. But please, at least try to make it fun. This show can be so dry on the inside that it becomes soulless. And it’s definitely not fun. I’ll make a leap and make a comparison with another Sunrise/Bandai original – SoraKake Girl AKA the “Girl Who Leaps Through the Sky”. I thought it was a show trying to reference to the famous “the Girl Who Leaps Through Time”, but it turned out to be something completely different. I don’t remember much about the show, but I do remember one thing: it was a fun. It was a fun summer blockbuster that entertained me well. It didn’t make me purchase it or anything else related to it, so I suppose that made it a failure in merchandising, but TBH, if I found an official version selling in Taiwan, I would’ve bought it, since I’ve been living in Taiwan for the past few years, but Taiwan never licensed it. Anyway, back to Sacred Seven. One last thing; the Kajiura OP was so generic that I didn’t care much for it. And the line “Stone Cold” always makes me scream “STEVEN AUSTIN”.

Bottomline: This show fell stone cold, and THAT’S the bottomline! Cause Stone Cold said so!!! XD

 

Yuru Yuri – It’s a Yuri show that ate my brain within the first five minutes of episode one and I’m TOTALLY AS BIASED AS HELL toward it.

What else is there? It doesn’t make any attempt to be serious, and it’s yuri fan service all the way without ecchi. I’m a yuri fan so all the minor flaws are pretty invisible to me. But honestly, there are very few flaws to this show anyway, because it sticks what it tries to do and never aimed very high – and you know when you aim low, you’ll always hit the (ouch)? But it’s pleasing anyways. And I’ll buy the OP single when I find it. I may even get the legal version if it ever comes out wherever I live. I doubt I’ll find it though, unless I live in Japan some day and can understand Japanese perfectly.

Bottomline: there is not much to say about it, but the dynamics among characters is perfect for yuri fans. Of course, your mileage will vary.

 

Boy, you girls sure are cute!
Itsuka Tenma no Usagi– Oh spare me, spare me of the so-called dramedy!

Oh boy, here’s a great one to dissect. This is a show that takes pretentiousness and fan pandering to a new level. It simultaneously incorporates the following into every episode: sickening melodrama; suggestions of BL to hardcore fujoshi (probably the doujin artists); senseless death times 6, sometimes 7; multiple accounts of OH-MY-GOD-THEY-KILLED-KENNY-ism; slow to retarded growth of character attributes – emotionally, mentally, or just plain come-on-beat-the-guy-already-ness (Taitou is so fucking weak that the number of facepalm I performed is astronomical); and last and unfortunately not the least, lack of conviction to stick to serious drama or serious comedy. The story begins with Taitou, the main guy, dying and becoming immortal ala highlandersomewhat of a magic character. Then, he remembers about the magical little girl he met during childhood, when they made a promise to be together…I mean geez, where have we seen that a billion times before? All right, that’s OK. Then, the absurdity starts. She’s free, she comes to him, he remembers and swears to protect her – here’s where in the anime world, he has enough powers to protect her – but no, someone almost kills her. All right, it’s the process of creating frustration. That’s…all right, too. But then, we discover that Taitou really has NO POWERS WHATSOEVER, except he’s like a cockroach and doesn’t really die. He gets beat up and unlike Saint Seiya, who becomes stronger within every time he falls down, Taitou fails miserably. And I fucking forget what happens after because everything is so unmemorable. Then I remember the episode where Taitou dies often…Wait, isn’t that every episode??? Doesn’t he just die over and over again? Then, there’s the Gekko and Mirai dynamic duo of pretentiousness and annoyance. Gekko, the loser who can’t  beat up his little brother even once, and Mirai, who’s always showing off panties and fights so un-brilliantly compared with Biribiri from Railgun and Index, shows up just to abuse and annoy Taitou and us the audience. The artificially manufactured fujoshi-bait Gekko and the “artfully”stupid Mirai always manage to kick the dumbness of this show up a few notches, creating massive headache and puke-friendliness in this anime veteran.

If it weren’t for Mirai’s cute shimapan clumsiness, as well as Saitohimeya (Saito Hajime’s distant cousin from bizzaro world???), I’d drop the show already! And yes, Mirai is cute! But she’s nearly the only bright spot of this show. As other heroine’s plots are never fully fleshed out (read the novel, the staff says), the show really isn’t all that deep. And I suspect even though the author of the novel has a male pen name, she’s really a female, because at the end of the TV show, we get two more pretty guys! Ugh! You gay FOCKER!

Bottomline: Mirai Pantsu – good, but not make show great watch. Other things, not make show watchable enough. And I’ve got shimapan on my mind.

 

Dantalian no Shoka – I want to enter Miyukichi’s Heavens…I mean, her character is 99% destructively annoying, but that one fucking brilliant percent always gets to me. Love Hugh Disward. Uh, before Miyuki fans kill me, I’ll say this: I hate her…Wait, I think I just made it worse.

The truth is, I’ve never cared much about Sawashiro Miyuki. Her roles that impressed me the most are Shinku from Rozen Maiden and Celty from Durarara (rararararararararara). Other than that, I’ve never been impressed with her acting skills or voice. Her looks certainly DO NOT appeal to me AT ALL. But all that aside, I’ll admit it. Yeah, I have a bias against her. But I’m human, and critics are humans. Some of us may say we’re (or we try to be) fair, but like hell we are! All right, so for this show, she’d have to be a perfect 11 to gain 1 point from the scale of 1 to 10. Why? Because I had already given her a -10 to began with. But you know the problem is?

Even without my Steel Defense, which denies all her efforts, she’d still gets a -5 from me.

Her character, Dalian, is annoying at least, fucking irritating at most. At this day and age, there are two seiyuu that can do either side of Dalian’s personality – tsundere and loli-queen – better than she, namely Kugimiya Rie (Kugyuuuuuu!) and Yuuki Aoi (Vampire Queen from Vampire Bund and Victorique from ). I mean, these two are perfect in their roles, and in order to combine their roles, you’ll have a difficult time. Miyukichi fights well, but fails miserably. At the end of the day, I just can’t help but find Dalian annoying, disgusting, and pretentious. However…

In the last few episodes of the show, her character finally shines. She stopped being annoying, and start being more down to earth and sympathetic. And I really love her deep baritone voice saying: “I AM heaven.” She has redeemed herself with great emotions.

All right, moving on to Hugh Disward. What can I say? He has characters. He is intelligent, and he can fight. Unlike many other worthless male leads that leave all the intelligence and powers to the female lead, Hugh is useful and does good things. He can fight.

Overall, the show has some really good stuff, however, being a heavily episodic show, it’s hard to redeem it. What I’m curious to read, is the novel. The author, Mikumo Gakuto (三雲岳斗), also did Asura Cryin’ novels. And Asura Cryin’ 2 anime had a great episode that struck me hard. Therefore, I’d love to read the novel and see everything that’s left out. But for the show itself, I’m rather torn.

Bottomline: It’s surprisingly pretty good, but with Miyuki involved, I stay biased against it…And since I don’t get paid, I ain’t gonna be fair ANYWAY!!!!!! XD XD XD

 

The IDOLM@STER – it has some heart…

I totally forgot that I’ve been following this show this season. Just watched episode 13. Well, you know, this is a show aimed for people who played the game and wanted to see screen time for their Waifus. I get it. At the beginning, I felt this show was pointless. It didn’t do much of anything and it wasn’t particularly interesting. However, at episode 13, I can honestly say that at least the voice actresses really put their hearts into acting. The good thing about this show is that at the very least, the chemistry among the cast flows just fine. Nothing jarring and nothing stood out (good or bad). It’s competent mediocre show for the rest of us, but for the fans, I imagine it has been an interesting ride. The episode about the girl with a large family was actually pretty decent. Oddly enough, I can’t really pick this one apart. Oh well.

Bottomline: it’s probably a boring show for non-fans and a pretty good one for fans. I wish they allowed Kugyuu to do her awesome lines about hentai, but this show is obviously the much-cleaner version of the game.

 

Other shows…Uh, I don’t remember watching anything else! I honestly hates Penguin Drum with a personal reason, and for other shows, I never care to follow them, so there. And No. 6 is so gay that I felt unhappy watching it.

Bottomline: This summer has been an interesting summer. TBH, it probably has enough variety to please many fans, but for critics, it was not an easy summer to like. However, I’ll say this, the overall production quality and dramatic elements of this summer seem to be better. I don’t mean like the production was outstanding; I mean like in this economy, what has been done this summer has actually impressed me quite a bit. Odd, ain’t it?

 

 

The Usagi Drop Effect Part Two

 

Now that another impressive noitaminA adaptation has come to an end, and an incomplete one at that, I’d like to share a simple wish. And it isn’t like this is a desire for a complete overhaul of what remains of the anime industry in its broken, tattered form. But rather a striving for more than what is expected. Perhaps even by reverse-engineering  expectation, answers may come in something more deceptively simple than merely packing together several decades worth of cliches. And after finally having the available time to finish Production IG’s straightforward summer offering, Usagi Drop, it feels clearer to me that a lot of what happens to plague current anime is a general lack of the simple, without overstatement. Complexity, without clutter. In an all-too brief eleven episodes, we are offered a glimpse into the lives of not merely a would-be surrogate dad, and the astute & resourceful child he has tasked himself with raising, but also of those surrounding them to create something of a tapestry of kinship, be it through blood relation, or merely by taking up the responsibilities inherent in forging a future. It is rare when a medium such as anime takes the time to explore such a deceptively simple thing, which is granted even more sweetness and poignancy by the very fact that it is animated. Even at its brief running time, it is something not to be taken lightly.

 

Upon the first section of my review, the halfway point of Daikichi’s first year raising Rin had seen their bond grow as Daikichi struggled to redefine his life, as well as grapple with his own feelings regarding not only the status of her name, but of her erstwhile mangaka of a mother, Masako. His lack of understanding Masako’s at-times inscrutable nature is understandable as it seems that the lady’s mind seems a bit too immature to even handle motherhood, let alone being a full-fledged comic artist. But seeing as how she left Rin in the care of the man who was Daikichi’s late grandfather, there are clearly revelations far from view, even at the end of the series. So when summer approaches, and the pair decide to visit grandfather Souichi’s grave, we are given just a little extra in the way of Masako’s progression, which is very much in keeping with not only her nature, but of Daikichi’s own deep concerns about this clearly withdrawn & insecure person.

 

Which leads me back to Daikichi himself. One of Usagi Drop‘s biggest assets is in how it portrays the developmental lack of early years since virtually adopting Rin at age six. His wishes to be the best guardian for her, not only brings about the best in him, but it also reveals imperfections and suppositions on his part. Everytime it seems like the show tends to make him out to be the perfect dad-figure, they also offer speedbumps here and there, reminding us of that loss of time, when he wasn’t there for her, allowing for certain amounts of doubt and anxiety to creep in. Thankfully, this is also balanced out by several characters throughout the show, including his section co-workers (mostly dads), his cousin Haruko, and of course, Yukari Nitani, single-mother of Rin’s precocious classmate, Kouki. Even more characters are introduced at the tail end of the series, but all serve to help Daikichi discover the manner of father-role he is building for both he and Rin, who clearly has grown to see him as family.

 

Which leads me to perhaps my favorite element of Unita’s manga, and the animated version; a clear-sensitive appreciation for the small moments. From fooling Daikichi into worrying about his weight on the scale, to losing Rin in the grocery store, the show is jam-packed with life-based details, almost all lovingly rendered with (again) deceptive simplicity. Moreso than most anime, the series takes what little time it has to illustrate the daily lives of the characters and actually lets them play out, often without dialogue to water it down. So many moments seemed destined to serve up yet another tired wild-take, or gag, and the show avoids those traps with admirable determination. And seeing as how head writer, Taku Kishimoto briefly assisted for Ghibli, it is perhaps telling in how a lot of Usagi Drop is spoken in action & sensitivity for environments. Many of the show’s settings retain an earthy feel, with its soft-tone color scheme, and almost watercolor presentation, it often feels like a favorite stationary set with a heartfelt narrative, and strong performances throughout.

 

 

About the only time Usagi Drop feels wobbly, is almost-naturally, in it’s final episode where Daikichi begins to take in the year that has passed, and contends with jump rope competitions and loose teeth. The problems are twofold, as the previous episodes left far too much for one episode to undo, and barely enough time to allow Daikichi’s reflections to not come off as anything but didactic. The writing of the episode, while rife with some truly affecting little moments, never feels natural within the confines of the show that had led us to this point. Which is to say that since noitaminA shows often end at eleven episodes, this was perhaps unavoidable in sojme respects. But even if the episode ended with simply the onset of winter, their visitation to Daikichi’s parents, and the tooth-loss, it perhaps would have been just enough. After all, these are more glimpses into life. Cramming that occurs here is almost forcefully reminding the viewer that this is merely another show with an atypical finale, when a simple closing of the curtain as life goes on would have sufficed. A conventional ending when the story we are witness to is strangely anything but.

 

So when I impart a certain wish upon the world of Japanese cartoons, I’d like to go ahead and just hope that in time, storytellers will actually get back to actually sharing glimpses of lives , rather than making us choke on familiarity. Escapism is fine, but without an ability to relate at the human level, then what is the point to everything happening on screen? Personally, I found this to be so good that I cannot even conceive of another season picking up where this left off. It is fine as a glimpse, and perhaps works far better in this manner. And to think, that something as simple as raising a child can become so compelling, it is clear that anything can make for a good story. It’s just in the execution. Usagi Drop as a series, and as a look at the joys and pain of parenting, feels like a trip to the garage, and a most joyous, welcome one at that.

Bridging The Gap: Why The World Needs Sailor Moon


Can a shining light from the tail end of the brightest days of Japan be just what anime and manga need today?

 

 

There was simply no way I could resist. Ran to my local Kinokuniya to swipe up my own copy of the Kodansha Comics release of the girls manga-milestone Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon. It isn’t as if it required the more common internal debate that often clouds recent J-media purchases either. The tale of ultimate shoujo underdog, Usagi Tsukino & her meeting destiny as the leader of a celestial army of defenders against an oncoming onslaught of otherworldly weirdos has been a not-so-guilty favorite since I first discovered it through friends during the mid-1990s. And after reading this latest transtlation, along with stellar treatment, I can even see past what many will consider to be passe, juvenile, and even a little confusing since it in many ways through charm and energy (and possibly, even a sly amount of satire). And it also occurred to this writer as to what made this so exciting to more than one segregated audience. The truest definition of crossover, Naoko Takeuchi’s most beloved creation has seen fandoms even some of the most diehard mecha show fans could only dream of. Whether fans discovered it through the syndicated DiC version that played on tv screens, or merely by way of word of mouth, it only gained ground by leaps and bounds by the time the internet became more accessible to the masses. One might even venture the notion that a great deal of how we view and accept anime in a cultural sense owes a great debt to this very fandom.

 

By now, most fans of both printed and animated mediums since the 90s are well aware of Sailor Moon, and the various iterations it has taken around the world. In fact, it’s pretty hard to imagine modern fandom without it. Even long after Japan had become something of a shadow of the colorful wonderland portrayed in the comic and animated versions (oh, and even live-action), the optimistic worldview presented in it best encompassed by Usagi and friends as they struggled to maintain normal lives in between yoma invasions hit a fascinating chord with so many not even familiar with Japanese life circa the late 1980s-early 90s. It offered a window to this very culture, and in many ways gave off the aura of an idyllic, almost Disneylike utopian vision. Which was almost always in danger of destruction by way of any number of nasty (albeit beautiful) villains out to deprive the world of its spirit in the name of negative energy.

 

 

Even as the series broke ground by being a mainstream product that played with not only gender roles, but gender itself, the powers that be could never truly wash away how culturally challenging much of it really was, despite on the surface looking like little more than a hybrid of classic maho shoujo tales and super sentai legend. It was glaring proof that anime and manga was far more than the realm of boys, and opened the door for an entirely new, and untapped market. So a shiny, glass world of friendship and dreams in endless struggle with our lesser selves seemed a perfect means to usher in a whole new era of admirers of J-media. An era less content with being huddled away in the corner of a sci-fi convention shelling out VHS bootlegs for absurd prices, and vocal enough to make great strides in how the world viewed not only shoujo, but manga in general. The sheer impact of the series and its characters could be felt in nearly every facet of the ensuing years of growing awareness, and unexpected success. And all due to a wholly unique (to westerners at least) presentation, and attitude.

 

 

My initial experience with Usagi and friends came about through a most unexpected source. Through a sweet family of friends whom I had known for years, who’s elder sibling had a wholesale enthusiasm for the animated series. In fact, much of his enamored state came from seeing a vision so open to how gender roles played so freely within what seems like your classical superhero tale. It was like a door opened. So when it was time for me to investigate his obsession for myself, I was knocked aback by how different it felt alongside the largely testosterone-centric anime output that we had been privy to for decades. And then the manga took it galaxies further by further treating central relationships as matter of fact, and not so much as some kind of mutant novelty. Was very refreshing to witness. So when the fandom became something beyond anything I could ever have dreamed of with the shows I had grown up with, the writing was on the wall. Takeuchi’s creation had done something no other property to that date had done; connected beyond the already existing choir, and into something altogether different.

 

 

And most importantly…it was a creation intended for younger audiences! Remember them? Despite all that has been said, the real exciting element that helped make SM such a crossover phenomenon, was that it held within it  a certain balance of childlike innocence at odds with often mature terrors. Even if it often took on the guise of oh so many action shows, complete with extended battles, and recycled story techniques, there almost always seemed to be just enough wide-eyed wonder regarding the daily world to counter the harshess often doled out by the villains. And as Usagi must contend with what ostensibly is to be her destiny, she must also suffer the pains and foibles common to just being young. (insecurity, and an added dash of almost supernatural clumsiness on top of all this) So as she begins her journeys, and makes new and diverse friends along the way, there is a sense that stakes are indeed growing with each passing day. The identifiable character elements often transcend their seemingly simple demeanors, often granting the world of Sailor Moon something that can just as easily invite adults as well as children.

 

 

And after so many years of false starts, censorship, and unwavering fan support, Sailor Moon seems to be primed and ready for a definitive return. Naturally, the world has moved on dramatically since those bright and colorful days. But on the whole, the spirit of friendship amidst great, and terrible odds is something that is universal enough to work in any era. Applicability seems possible, as long as the character dynamics remain true to their origins, albeit within new, more challenging circumstances. The current landscape deserves not so much a shot of nostalgia, so much as a reminder of what makes the things we appreciate and respect so special. One can only hope that the recent release of both Sailor Moon, and the previously unreleased stateside Sailor V, that the still remaining embers of love for this franchise will flame up just enough for an entirely new generation to enjoy.

 

 

It was more than mere magic that helped create the contemporary anime and manga fan; it was the heart and ingenuity Naoko Takeuchi so iconically shared on the page. And even as a genre-hybrid work, it was and remains a reminder of what it takes to strike a chord with such a wild range of admirers. And while Sailor Moon is far from a perfect saga, it is filled with enough sweetness and sincerity to speak volumes long after its creation. Whether you’ve ever caught yourself talking with your cat, or retained all the wonders of young friendship, there is always a little of the Odango-atama in all of us.

 

                                          With a good, smart treatment. I’d watch it religiously.

Skinship with Joshidaisei. Part 4

Why do I feel saudade? Why do I want to listen to bossa nova when I think about Hibino-san? I thought saudade was only for something you lost in the past. Is she something I lost? No. She isn’t associated with anybody from my past. She’s simply not in my memory card. Continue reading Skinship with Joshidaisei. Part 4

Kami-sama no Memo-chō 10 is why

That I wanted to watch this anime and like the light novel very much. This is where everything begin. This is why the show, the light novel, and whatever else means so much.

Ayaka‘s story.

This is where it all begins.

This is when Narumi really met Alice and the Scooby-Do gang for the first time. This is where the real meat and potato filled up my plate.

This is why I wanted to watch the anime.

I’ve been watching the anime and to be honest with you, I’ve been disappointed with it. There were dialogs, feelings, revelations, and other things that were cut out. The characters never got to express their true selves (found in the light novel) properly, and the fact that Okura Yui‘s Alice is flat really doesn’t help much. All the ingredients they decided to keep have made this show a common place in Blandville. Where everything and happenings easily flow from ordinary not to mention over-used Otaku theater, and if you weren’t a fan of the light novel to begin with, you’d have a difficult time sitting through it all, especially if you were looking to find meat and potatoes, but only found empty cans of “Dokupe”. Dr. Pepper would’ve been acceptable, but “Dokupe” is just a poor imitation of it all.

No, of course that’s not a fair assessment. At least, the caricatures from the light novel have been planted into the anime. As a light and airy hit calculated for summer audiences, the anime works in its own way. But the big problem is that the characters are missing. And those are what make the light novel, the source, work.

I have this big speech about the appeal of the light novel to a lost group of people and all that. But I can’t really bear to put all that crap on. All I can say is that, the plain opening of the light novel really works. After all, everything just seems so ordinary.

But it’s not, and that’s the magic of it. There’s always a place that you want to defend, no matter how small, plain, and worthless it seems to any outsiders.

Unfortunately, for the anime, even that gets reduced to some hasted introduction that throws Narumi into the mix. It doesn’t give us time to get the feel of the place. It doesn’t show us the true motive behind all the plots. It’s like the anime has the face of the light novel but didn’t even inherit its true nature.

However, episode 10 is here. With the time constraints of a TV show, I’m not that hopeful. For the fans of the light novel at least, episode 10 captures some of the small sparkle and magic in the novel.

I can only hope everything manages to show me most of what I like about the novel at the end.

The Usagi Drop Effect Part One

So perhaps this is as far opposite as the anime timbre needle can reach? Could Usagi Drop be the penultimate symbol of a medium reaching the end of the reflex line in regards to how it is presented, and sells itself to the masses? Admittedly, not having not spent a lot of time with the Summer anime season, a part of me was ambivalent at best by considering even watching my way through an entire series. As much as the studios have been racing to seek out new conceptual niche(Ie- giving Shinbo more work), and otherwise spinning away at their remix machine(Shinbo, again..), it is telling that Production IG opted to adapt Yumi Unita ‘s popular manga for the animated screen. In many ways, to envision anime as a place where we could be host to a world, and situation not unlike those in real life, where single-parent living is a large functional reality in the lives of so many is something that not only tells us how strange a zeitgeist we are currently within, but also of very real dreams, concerns, and perhaps even laments that a modern urban Japan is going through. If so, the anime version of Usagi Drop is something of an effective, yet doubly melalcholic yearning for  a new breed of beginning in a landscape awash with change.

When Daikichi and family make the bombshell discovery of a six-year old daughter left behind after his grandfather’s death, the 30 year old salaryman eventually takes to the unusually independent, yet alone Rin Kaga, and begins a journey that will likely change both forever. Of the many new life choices Daikichi must make in order for his transformation to begin; including  a new commute habit, watching his health, and downgrading his sales job for the sake of Rin’s schooling, we are witness to a man who having grown up the only boy among sisters , is unexpectedly adept at being what could very well be akin to an adoptive father. There are many challenges, and speedbumps natural to assuming this role without having known this little girl through her earliest years, many of which involve his need to better understand Rin’s role, and her regards toward her new circumstances. The ways in which both characters shape and alter one another’s lives is at the core of Usagi Drop, noItaminA’s summer offering that serves as an exciting respite from the all-too-familiar barrage of tropes for their own sake tv anime culture one expects from the season. A few episodes in, and it becomes clear that the source of such excitement comes from characters played with the right pitch, and storytelling with unerring patience, and faith in the sublime.

Upon reflection, the show’s initial episodes do a pretty solid job of establishing the domestic world as something rife with moments worth illustrating, all the while whisking us through a universal tale of single-parenthood. There are nearly entire episodes that eschew the all-too convenient cliche of voice over in order to inundate us with often confusing and superfluous musing. While voice-over eventually does happen, it tends to carry a more utilitarian function. But when this isn’t so much in need, there are sections that actually show rather than tell, which is going to sound strange, but refreshingly retro. As Daikichi’s life begins to crystallize into something more than that of a mildly successful trader, we are privy to his world prior, his relationships with co-workers and family, and even his own personal quirks before facing one new facet of the guardian life after another. We even witness Rin’s contrasting nature to that of other children her age(most telling, is by watching Daikichi’s niece, who in many ways resembles a 1970s comic brat, exaggerated mouth, twin-tails and all). There are touches that are directed, rather than spoken away in a confusing line or two. For the show to take the time to visualize what far too many anime skip with voice over, creates an environment that trusts the audience and it’s ability to relate, instead of giving in to short cut solutions. So when he has to contend with co-workers & family members agape at this very sudden lifestyle shift, as well as simpler day-to-day concerns such as school admissions & potential bed-wetting, Daikichi’s life has become an endless trial by fire that he seems to have been born to brave. The show’s first half leads us to the revelation of Rin’s up til now unseen mother, and Daikichi’s burning concerns regarding the future of Rin’s name. Along with his meeting of the unexpectedly young Masako(played by-SURPRISE. Maaya Sakamoto), and his understandable frustration at the young mother for seemingly abandoning her daughter for the sake of her career, it is made clear that her role has only begun to reveal itself. With all the hints that episode 5 leaves for us, there is room to understand that even her character will receive a decent amount of humanization before the 11 episode run comes to an end. All the while,  Rin’s growing affection for Daikichi, and yet noble nature are having a profound effect on both leads.

Now having read the previous, it is clear that I have a certain affection for this series, and what it has offered thus far. And while I am aware of where the story goes in the manga version of events, I hardly see what comes next as any kind of trouble, lest the storytelling takes some kind of unforseen nosedive. The animation’s novel watercolor teaser sections are reminiscent of Horuou Musuko, and grant the show a classically unique flavor that accents its modern world encompassing nature. The aural/visuals of the series are quite lovely in places, and often feel more like a live action film mix than an anime one. Performances have been quite effective thus far, with Hiroshi Tsuchida’s performance driving the piece as a man, seemingly facing what seems to be his lifelong destiny, joy and pain in a beautiful package. So much sensitivity is granted in the writing, the requirement that his range be quite wide, yet real is high priority, and it comes together quite well here. Matsuura’s a great Rin, but also falters due to obviously having a register much older than the character. That said, she is up to the task. Much of Unita’s visual humor, and attention to daily minutae is terrific without seeming typical of what many have dubbed Slice Of Life anime.  There are so many warning signs that could allow Usagi Drop to become just another animated drama from Japan.  But as of this point, this is a solidly written and directed series that stands nicely apart, true to the classic noitaminA thrust. If this is where anime reaches the apex of its more domestic side, I’m more than willing to explore it as long as there are stories worth telling, and characters worth following in the name of something new & sincere with our animated entertainment. And much like our two leads, I’m apprehensive, yet eager to see what happens next.

To Be Continued..

The Pillows 2011 aka Survival of a Closed Mosh Pit

Where to begin? It has been two days since Sunday, and yes the daytime was events where countless and numerous stories can be shared or reminiscence about, such as what happen ten years or six months ago. Two acts of totally different tragedy though…one violence and one nature. 9/11 is going to be my personal thoughts though. I lived through it.

Fast forward roughly about six hours later, I found myself in a definite controlled violent scene. Center and about five to eight bodies back from the stage was spent for NAP UTATANE Tour 2011. New York was the second to last stop to this three band show, and for the $30 I paid, it was worth, the hours, the pain, and the loss of hearing. Am I willing to do it again? My answer is a definite yes, added with the ability of being able to fight my way to the front of the mosh pit, and some other reminders to remember. This event happened because I learned that the Pillows were going to have a concert here last Thursday, and then finding out two of my fellow J-rock loving friends were going with two other friends of theirs.

NAP UTANE is an acronym for The Noodles, All Ages, and The Pillows. UTANE, I think is shortening for Song is really fun. Uta for Song, Ta(noshi) for fun, and (desu)Ne for is it…without the question mark. I probably am thinking too much, but that is the name of this 2011 tour and collaboration.

I didn’t start considering standing room concerts, until last year, after my Utada Hikaru experience, and realizing that Japanese artists do and will tour the Unitied States. Prior to that my experience has been with getting the opportunity to see Japanese artists perform at conventions.

all ages bassist

The Pillows haven’t toured the U.S, since their last one in 2008. However there were a few fans for the other bands as well. I was standing in a relatively tame mosh pit crowd when the first band began with All Ages, an American band from San Francisco. They’re the best opening band I heard in the concerts I have been to so far. The bassist was interesting, he was doing some pretty lascivious actions with his tongue. The stereotype still remains, does the length of their tongue signal how well will they perform oral? (You don’t need to answer this question, just food for thought.) So he ended up stripping down to his red undies at the end. The only low point of this band, was being pelted in the face with water from the lead guitarist. My reaction to being pelted with water, this early in the night, was a loud seven word expletive. If it was Toshi from X Japan, then yes..bring it all on. The lead guitarist, and the bassist both jumped off the side of the stage to surf the crowd briefly, and I watched this with some interest, since I have never seen crowd surfing with my eyes before.

Second band was The Noodles, who have also toured with The Pillows before. They are a three female Japanese band. Their music playing was great, but they definitely needed to get into the set before they shined. I think it was also between the sets changing, did my friends and I smelled someone smoking a cigarette.. needing his nicotine fix and finally getting high with reffer. That pot smell lingered for the rest of the concert.

The third band was the Pillow. Cries of “Pillows” “Pillows” energized the crowd, and the mosh pit literally exploded. Bodies packed tighter, forming either a human wall or a human wave and temperatures heated up. I literally moved forward or back with the pit. I realized also during the set that my friend and I lost our other friend as we were defending our spots in the center. I was also busy defending my bag from getting lost. Up to this point, I had my bag between my legs, but as the Pillows began, I feared for my bag. So I may have lost my spot in the mosh, as 1-2 people surged past me. I was lucky, someone shined their cell phone light for me, so I was able to keep my bag safe.

Still in the middle of all this, The Pillows were singing, and from what I can confirm and not in order, they sang:

Plenty of FCLC songs, and this may have been the setlist. As the show closed with the last song and encore, I was able to find my friend who I though was lost in the mosh. She had an interesting experience of being the only girl in a circle of other guys. My other friend fought his way to the front, and as the encore came on with the group, my friend and I were subjected to five people crowd surfing over the top of our heads. Keeping my glasses on proved to be a battle for those 3-6 minutes. It certainly felt like forever. The show ended with a bang, and as the crowd streamed out of the theater. My friend and I, walked out..well I wobbled out with rubbery legs. Definitely first time in such an intense mosh, for my friend this was her second worse, her first worse was VAMPS at Irving Plaza where she couldn’t even breath. With the heat and press of the pit so intense, we were literally wet with sweat to the point it felt like we had a pretty stinky shower. Thinking back, I recalled that the bassist for All Ages raised his arms to exposed his pits. XD

We waited a couple of minutes for our other friends, and they came out with some great The Pillows keepsake, for one a thrown guitar pick, and for the other an autographed cd from The Pillows.

Reminders next time for a concert, wear contacts, and don’t rely on there being a coat/bag check, because there weren’t any. Also stay hydrated, though the staff made everyone throw away all bottled drinks, which was not so great, I forgot that would happen. Coming down from that adrenaline rush, the local 7-11 with its late hours and bottle sales never looked as great. I definitely tried to take some images with my cell phone, so the quality didn’t come out, but it is here.

Blood C – kill ’em all Tomino hiding among the staff?

THIS IS FUCKING ENOUGH!!! NOW TURN RED-EYED ALREADY!!!

 

Good God, man! Stop the overflowing of blood! It’s massive and tiresome. And stop the kill them all plot line! I mean, sure, for the drama, THIS IS BLOOOOOOOOOD C! Right? But sheesh, this type of nearly complete overturning of character list by killing nearly 98 % of them is just way too fucking much.

This totally reminds me of Ga Rei Zero’s first episode, where we are introduced of a bunch of characters and starting to learn about them, on pretty decent terms, and then…

KillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKill…

They all fucking die! WTF???

And this time, we had over 7 episodes (before the death of one of the twins) to get to learn and like all the characters, before Tomino the show just decides to kill them all and pour buckets of blood upon us. I mean, Shit! This is so close to what B- flicks would do that it isn’t interesting, at all.

OK! We get it! It’s Blood C! But jesus, stop raining down blood on us! Or at least declare a formal WWIII on Saya and the audience first before the God of character-kill KILL THEM ALL TOMINO shows us his powers! Who the fuck summoned him, anyway?

The plot is supposed to be cranking up and becoming more and more relevant and clear, but the over-bloodiness is just too distracting even for this anime veteran. After all, there’s only so much killing that one can take in a non-B flick before he calls “mercy” or “give up”.

There was so much blood and so many established characters that died that the show became shitty. Spare us, please, but more importatntly,

Kill ’em all plots just doesn’t work in 2011. Please don’t fucking pull that shit again; it was even quite tiring when I saw it for Gundam V, which was made in 1989-1990.

Of course Tomino isn’t in this show, but this style is just so…sigh…

P.S. found the screen cap from the good reviewers here. And these people have great reasons to be angry about this shit!

Conventional Wisdom: The Year of Our Con 2011 (Part 4: I ♥ ABTS)

Conventions, at least in America, are social events. It’s rare to find anyone going to a major convention all by him or herself. Always, there is a group of friends, cosplayers, or (in our case) staff. And when you’re an anime blogger with a press badge, there are always the others who share the same privilege. They’re our natural allies and friends and we spent a lot of time with them this year.

There’s a lot of name dropping in this article. Consider this mostly a shout-out to friends and comrades! I’m sorry if this is a little inaccessible for everyone else.

Inside the press lounge. You can actually see zzeroparticle all the way in the back.

IV: I ♥ ABTS (Ani-blogo-twito-sphere)

The first group of people who we sat next to at the Anime Expo press junket were the crew from Nico Nico. While we were surprised they were there, they are not part of the ABTS and therefore not a part of this story.

After Nico Nico left, in walked zzeroparticle (twitter), _eternal (twitter), Shinmaru (twitter), and KylaranAeldin (twitter). I remembered all of them from last year except _eternal, for whom this was his first AX. As a longtime admirer of his writing, I was glad to meet him. Kylaran, who has helped us with subtitle translations for our interviews for the past couple of years, immediately launched into Japanese conversation with Rome (our own interpreter), and we swapped stories, and emotions: nervousness about our impending interviews. Wondering when omo was going to show up—we knew he’d be late. Asking each other questions about Hatsune Miku, which a lot of us didn’t have extensive knowledge about (especially me). Later, an old friend, Benu of Anime Genesis, showed up: he’s been around since the very beginning of Anime Diet and it was great catching up with him as well. I’d run into him again waiting in line for Miku press tickets on the morning of the concert date.

Yes, it was a table full of guys. You can make your sausage party jokes here. Gia, now of Anime News Network, sat with her colleagues at the different table, and she came over once to greet me. She’s been a ubiquitous presence at cons ever since her Anime Vice days. But ANN is operating on a different zone, in a way; the guys in front of me, these were people who I still mainly knew through their sites. A brotherhood of blogging.

Omo finally came in after we got lunch from Quizno’s. I’ve seen him quite a few times since we first met at New York Anime Festival in 2008, and he straddles the two worlds: he’s got his own longstanding blog and now he’s also a reporter for Japanator. We said hi, but he sat mostly with his colleagues from the latter this time, and we’d only occasionally run into him from time to time: most memorably, after the Kalafina show where he was with Fasalina, whom I’d never met up until now. She’s an example of someone who’s more on Twitter than on a blog; when you know someone mainly through Twitter you begin to imagine that they resemble their avatar, and it’s always a surprise to put a face to a pseudonym. I wish we could have talked more.

canon_chan puts in a MANMA-rable appearance at the food truck plaza.

And then there were the discussions, debates, and fake flames: I mean the theatrically heated discussions, often started by Kylaran, about whether Madoka is crap, why Kalafina’s choreography was substandard, and colorful stories about going to the one booth in the dealer room selling Japanese live-action porn. There was especially the blogger meet up at the food truck plaza, where we met canon_chan (twitter), calaggie (twitter), kevo (twitter), yumeka (twitter), and others. (Sorry if I forgot.) If there was anything approaching the experience of being in a big IRC chatroom, or active comment thread, in real life—this was it. Lots of conversations back and forth; me being quiet for the most part. I’m still quite an introvert at heart, especially in large groups.

Most of the guys were heading to the Miku concert just afterwards. We’d already decided which of our staff was going to do it for Anime Diet, and it wasn’t me. I walked with a bunch of the other bloggers to the Nokia Plaza, and there we parted. There, I wrote my first Kalafina article, and waited for the concert to end. (I’ve told the story of Miku, and our struggles, earlier.)

Anime Diet staff are devotees of the press lounge. We like to go there first thing in the morning, looking for the free drinks and food that were promised (and were not forthcoming this year, except on day 1). Stay long enough in there, and zzeroparticle and Kylaran and Shinmaru often will show up, usually plotting which events to cover for the day or, in zzeroparticle’s case, prepping for a panel about Yuki Kajiura one day.

zzeroparticle bestrides the raised table like a skinny Asian colossus.

We wanted to be there to support him of course, Rome and I; as a fan of Kajiura and Kalafina and as friends. Kylaran swore to heckle him from the sidelines, and we saw him and other bloggers scattered throughout the audience. It reminded me of the old days, when Hinano and JPMeyer had a blogger panel at New York Anime Festival 2008, and where I first met bloggers in person: it was in these moments that the con experience felt least like work and most like a bunch of friends hanging out and doing stuff together. There was always lots of laughter, loud, raised voices, and walking slowly down the long corridors.

This is the part of convention-going I never hope to lose, even if by some miracle Anime Diet becomes big one day and ranks with the ANNs of the world. In the middle of hectic, sometimes frustrating events and coverage, this was what made it worthwhile: meeting people, fellow otakus and nerds, putting faces to the words that exist only on screens. I was taught in church that people were more important than things, that relationships were to be valued over objects. I see those moments as moments of grace: like when we were all standing outside Club Nokia waiting for us to be approved as press and griping together, or when we had our computers and equipment scattered around the table in the press lounge, doing our work and having side conversations at the same time.

As professional as I aspire to be at Anime Diet, this is the true spirit of the amateur: the lover, the one who does it because he loves it. It’s the whole reason we exist here at this website, and why other bloggers write their blogs. Without love, it’s just clashing cymbals and nothing. To steal another blogger’s namesake, it’s what we must always remember. And I hope I’ve done an adequate job here in sharing whatever memories I had.

Waiting for Miku tickets. Benu is up front.

This concludes the Conventional Wisdom series. Next time: actual anime reviews!

Conventional Wisdom: The Year of Our Con 2011 (Part 3: Lost in the VIP Room)

This is the story of how me and some other bloggers met the CEO of Funimation at Comic Con, and then some.

The main characters in this story.

 

III: Lost in the VIP Room

Daniella, who I worked with earlier this year to help the relief efforts in Japan, and I had to stay close to each other much of the time, during that strange JManga.com reception: it was hard to get a word in to a lot of the people there since we were among the few who didn’t speak Japanese. We were in a room full of Japanese executives, whom Chase Wang—he of former AX and now AM2 fame—had invited a bunch of us bloggers to meet after the JManga.com announcement at Comic Con. There were translators, writers, and even a few other bloggers eagerly speaking to representatives from Shueisha, Kadokawa, and the other publishing conglomerates who were combining to launch this online manga reading service. And we couldn’t talk to any of them directly, even though we had questions that weren’t answered during the panel.

“Maybe we should find a translator for us,” Daniella said.

“But who?” I wondered aloud. The few translators I knew by name seemed already busy, immersed deep in conversations with only a few words I could pick out from years of anime watching. A decade of anime watching does not constitute a linguistic education: you don’t really absorb a language by osmosis by watching subtitles all the time.

I hovered around the table of hors d’oeuvres, occasionally grabbing some crunchy rolls (harhar) and sliders, hopefully not enough to look gluttonous. I was going to use this reception, which was held at Roy’s Restaurant, as dinner.

Another journalist approached me while I was standing idly by the food. Stephen of The-O Network was also another non Nihongo speaker stranded, seemingly, in this crowd of insiders and wannabe insiders. We introduced ourselves and soon started talking about our common dilemmas, and soon it was the three of us standing in the corner after the brief presentation, wondering how we were going to overcome our awkward nervousness and try to approach some of these people.

I remember feeling surprised that one of the people who spoke was none other than Gen Fukunaga, the CEO of Funimation—an anime, not a manga distributor. Fukunaga had made some general comments about how Funimation would be lending some cross-promotional support to various JManga titles, if they happened to have any anime versions of the manga being sold. Fukunaga was Japanese-American, meaning he spoke perfect English. He also seemed more outgoing and approachable than the more formal Japanese executives. Cultural stereotypes in action, I suppose.

What got into me to flag Fukunaga down, then, when I saw him pass the three of us by, I don’t know. I remember seeing Deb Aoki in the back talking to another executive, tape recorder in hand, and I was thinking to myself that I probably should be doing the same thing and how I wished I could do it too…but Fukunaga saw me wave, and he eagerly came to the three of us to introduce himself. Immediately, we took the opportunity to pepper him with questions: about Funi’s streaming plans, about what they were even doing at JManga.com’s reception. He answered more than thoroughly: he seemed eager to explain himself. About how more streaming options were coming soon, about how he foresaw the problems that both the manga and anime industry years ago, and that they were busy trying to reach new audiences. He then proceeded to ask us for our opinions about how they could make crossover animations using Western game properties like Dragon Age and Mass Effect. We did not hesitate to give our opinions.

Fukunaga also told us some information which he said should remain off the record. All I will say is that they will become competitive very soon in a burgeoning field, and that some long-awaited wishes will be granted.

I remember I felt that finally, the reception hadn’t been a waste. Daniella and I then rushed out to head to our next panel, the Yen Press presentation—I was committed to liveblogging as much as I could that was manga-related at Comic Con—and we were both kind of marveling at how easy it was to talk to a CEO, one that controlled the majority of the domestic anime distribution market to boot. I was impressed, certainly, with his openness, something that Funimation has improved on over the years. Finding him was certainly a surprise, and a sort of surprise you wish happened more often at conventions.

Jeremy called me while we were walking back into the convention center. He had exciting news to share: he had managed to secure an interview (which you can see here) with the CEO of Nico Nico’s American branch, James Spahn. Apparently my contact with Fukunaga—Nico Nico and Funimation are partners—was rather serendipitous. Suddenly, we had an entry point into both Nico Nico and Funi, big players in our corner of the world, and this could be a potentially fruitful partnership.

Nico Nico: the new Greek chorus of otakudom

I remember going to the Funimation booth once, because I had to inform Mr. Spahn that we had to postpone our interview by a day. He was talking to someone else, while the Nico Nico guys were filming cosplayers and interviewing them just behind. You could see the trademark scrolling comments rolling by on the screen. I patiently waited for him, before realizing it would be a while before he finished. I always feel awkward in these situations: I wandered around the booth, looking at the DVDs and Blu-Rays for sale, weaving through the crowds of cosplayers who were trying to make it onto Nico Nico. I didn’t want to be the creep who hung around the edges, anticipating an opening; but, I had an important message to convey. It took a good while before he was free and I managed to deliver my message.

The interview itself was much more like a conversation. Jeremy had already started talking to him once I arrived, my voice memo recorder app in hand on my iPhone. The recording actually started a bit late, but we got enough good quotes down for an article.

That was hobnobbing and reporting, Comic Con style. If you want a really wild story, talk to me sometime and ask about Operation Time Lord. :) I won’t share it here but it was one of the most memorable stories ever…

Next and final part: comrades and colleagues in the blogosphere.