Round the Sphere

Would you rather sit at some boring AX press thingy or jet around the AniBlogSphere?

For those not at Anime Expo (including yours truly), enjoy what the blogsphere has to offer!

I loved this from chaostangent. Math and anime in bed together ^_^ So glad he decided to finally take it out of draft status~

Very informative read about the licensing process. It’s in three parts. Parts two and three.

What better way to bring up politics than gunpowder?

Did you know that September 30th is National DVD Ripping Day? Omo breaks the news!

The Short Review: Haiyore! Nyaruko-san

The pitch for the light novels that the Nyaruko-san franchise is based on must have been simple: “what if the Elder Gods of the Cthulu mythos were otaku, moe schoolgirls—oh, except for the trap?”Anyone who knows anything about HP Lovecraft’s work ought to have recoiled from such a proposal. And yet, here we are, with two Flash-animated series and now this fully-animated, Xebec-produced, anime, Haiyore! Nyaruko-san based on this premise.

And, shock and horror: it works.

I came to Nyaruko-san with only a glancing familiarity with the Cthulu mythos, primarily from having played a few short campaigns of the Call of Cthulu tabletop RPG with my high school buddies. So I got the SAN points references, and that most of the Cthulu knowledge actually came from the game than from the books. I didn’t get much else, and from what I’ve seen, this series is full of references, not just to Lovecraft’s sprawling mythos but to all corners of otaku culture too. What was refreshing is that I didn’t need to get everything to enjoy the show: the slapstick humor, the quick and energetic pacing, and above all the refusal of the show to take itself seriously made it a laugh-out-loud watch. I can only think of two or three moments where there is a touch of actual emotional sincerity not immediately undone by a joke—and that was enough. Any more and it would have simply been mawkish.

That Haiyore! Nyaruko-san works is also surprising given how insular and very otaku-centric it is. Ever since Haruhi Suzumiya appeared on the scene, anime has taken a lurch toward the meta, the otaku-pandering, and the niche. In this series, the Elder Gods are all otaku, in love with eroge, RPGs, and anime. Huge, world-threatening monsters are often after nothing more—or less, depending on your perspective—than otaku entertainment, which the aliens think actually is the whole of “Earth entertainment.”  One episode even features an unsubtle piece of contemporary political satire, lampooning certain Tokyo politicians who would censor manga and anime.

Most of time, I no longer find this sort of thing funny. Why is this a seeming exception?

It helps to have fun with the cliches even when you’re using them.

Aside from getting the basics of comedy right—fast pace, great comic timing (see all the moments when Kuuko and Hastur make their advances on Mahiro in reaction or in tandem with Nyaruko), and a lack of pretentiousness—it’s the contrast between the high and low that makes it work. Lovecraft’s mythos was intended to convey the terror of huge, unknown forces and beings outside of human control—to restore a kind of religious shock and awe that Lovecraft felt was missing from modern man.

To find out that these beings are…just running a theme park, and love nothing more than a stupid eroge? See, that’s funny. It cuts at the pretension that was never far from Lovecraft’s work, and nods at the fact that otaku entertainment is, in the grand scheme of things, kind of trivial. And this is not hard to understand, even if you miss the specific references. The buffoonery of all the characters is universal.

Haiyore! Nyaruko-san was my “easy to watch” dumb fun show of the season. It didn’t pretend to be anything more than that, and that was enough. This is one of the season’s unexpected winners.

Short Review Rating: 7.5/10

The Short Review: Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

The anime adaptation of Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (Tasogare Otome x Amnesia) is a lot like its title character, Yuuko: both have wild, inconsistent mood swings and moments where you wonder whether you’re still watching the same person, or show. The clumsy cobbling together of different moods and genres makes for a mediocre anime series.

The staff pedigree of Dusk Maiden held out some promise. Silver Link, the spin-off studio headed by SHAFT veteran and Shinbo acolyte Shin Oonuma (ef~a tale of memories/melodies), did a fine job with the Baka Test series in combining quirky humor, Oonuma’s Shinbo-esque visual stylings, and even the occasional serious scene.Maiden’sfirst episode, while gimmicky, promised at least some degree of cleverness in directing and approach. However, in retrospect, the basic strengths and weaknesses of the series were apparent even then: annoying side characters. Yuuko’s mostly appealing capriciousness, occasionally undermined by unnecessary fanservice. A rather diffident, blank slate of a male lead, the sort others have labeled “Insert-kun” or “Yuuji Everylead.”

The promise that is implicit at the beginning of every show, of course, is that we will see changes as it goes on. With the exception of Yuuko, the characters more or less remain the same as they were in episode 1. Our two leads fall in love, of course, though all of the personality and development is on Yuuko’s side. She is the most varied and thus interesting character, though the transitions between her moods are often clumsily handled; she is, in short, the most human character. And she’s dead.

The best moments in this show are simple ones like this.

Only two points seem to make Dusk Maiden stand out. First is Oonuma’s directorial technique, which was first shown to the world as being uniquely suited to portraying trauma in ef, and used to both comedic and dramatic effect in Baka Test. He repeats the performance in the single great episode of this series, episode 10—the flashback to Yuuko’s past. Oonuma’s ability to blend subjective and objective viewpoints, to actually show the fractured feeling of pain, is palpable. The overall way Yuuko’s light and dark halves interact is rather simplistic, but the execution of the flashback elevated it for a moment.

The second is the apparent subtext of the dark/light Yuuko story. Perhaps it is no accident that Yuuko is a ghost from the 1940s, who lives in denial of the terrible things that happened in that era, refusing to remember the acts of brutality that caused her to haunt the characters in the present. Could it be an allegory, albeit a clumsy and inexact one, of the way Japan has often been reluctant to face its own past in the Second World War and acknowledge it as part of their history? The analogy breaks down somewhat when pressed—Yuuko is the victim, not aggressor, though the images of human sacrifice cannot help but remind one of Unit 731 among other things. But Dusk Maiden is not the only series that features haunted schools from that era, and the show’s ending can be interpreted as a call to make peace with the past by taking it on directly.

That, frankly, is more interesting than what the show actually does with Yuuko’s character arc, which is a conventional anime romance marred by the standard “reset” ending, the bane of so many stories that won’t follow through on its convictions. (Even the otherwise wonderful Ano Natsu de Matteru did it.) When creators will learn that such endings destroy the emotional investment of the audience, I do not know. But that, the uneven pacing, and frequent resort to cliche preventDusk Maiden from being more than a mediocre series with occasional high points.

Short Review Rating: 7/10

A History Lesson from Hyouka

“It all becomes part of the classics, as per the rules of historic perspective.”

Guest writer FoxyLadyAyame of the beautiful world presents an informed, in-depth look at how the characters in Hyouka enact a particular historiographical method in their search for truth. The result is a rich analysis of one of the season’s most notable shows. —gendomike

History: a word that probably causes shivers to most people and especially students. No wonder, since this subject is traditionally tied to a list of dates to remember by heart, heavy books that scare you just to look at, and a teacher who keeps talking till you get drowsy…

But it shouldn’t really be this way. History isn’t just something totally disconnected to us; it isn’t just the story of dead glorious people. “History is who we are and why we are the way we are” said David McCullough. History is the search for the truth of important or every day people, of epic battles and of life during peace times. It should be interesting. It should cause people’s eyes to sparkle with excitement, ask questions and discuss with each other.

Much like in Hyouka. Because these kids were conducting historical research on a small scale.

What we see in episodes 4 and 5 of Hyouka are historians at work and the perspective of the new historiography. In contrast to the Old History, which focused on the narrative and considered the sources to provide the truth in raw form, New History emphasizes analysis and interpretation, and supports a critical approach towards the source material. The latter also is concerned not only with big narratives (national history) but also with smaller narratives (local history), such as Kamiyama’s school festival incident.

According to the Annales School, a style of historiography developed by French historians in the 20th century, history should be studied in 3 layers: structures, conjunctures and events. Braudel, who suggested this framework, wanted to show that time moves at different speeds and one can say that he divides time into geographical (long span), social (medium span) and individual (short span) times respectively.

Structures exist in the long span, and they may last hundreds, even thousands of years. They refer to the underlying social patterns which provide continuous constraints on our actions. They may represent patterned cultural, economic or political modes of reacting to natural phenomena or perceiving social realities. We can see in the series that Kamiyama, in Gifu prefecture, is surrounded by green, that farming is still taking place, and that the families who have big parts of land, like Chitanda’s, possess a pretty high social status. It would be safe to assume that these characteristics were pretty much the same 45 years ago and the mentalities accompanying rural areas are also maintained. Structures don‘t make an appearance during this first arc of the series and don’t seem to play a significant role to the solution to the mystery, yet are still there.

What we do get to see in episode 4 is the presence of conjunctures. Conjunctures lie between structures and events and represent the cyclical rhythms within the normal fluctuations of all structures. A conjuncture in our story might be the ‘uprising’ against authority, in particular the government and secondarily the teachers. Yes, the student movement of the 60s that Fukube mentions first and their hypotheses up till that point take a whole other meaning.

The event of course is what happened to Kamiyama High School 45 years ago, and to be more precise, the past of the Classic Literature Club and the past of Sekitani Jun.

So how do historians seek the truth?

The answer is by following certain steps. First of all, they search for available sources, keeping in mind the topic of interest at all times. They categorize and evaluate the sources and choose those that are considered more valid. As students, the available sources for a very specific topic can be limited, but more than one source is always important in order to do cross examination. Chitanda focused on Hyouka’s anthology vol.2 introduction note, Ibara searched the library and found Unity and Triumph vol.1, Fukube dug up the archives of the Wall Newspaper Club’s Monthly Report, and Oreki sought some official records and brought information from Kamiyama High’s 50 Years of Journey. All of them are primary sources.

Then comes the analysis stage. The texts are carefully read, the important facts are singled out, keywords and thematic of each text are highlighted and the first hypotheses are formed. By going through more texts, facts are added, doubted or confirmed and the hypotheses are corrected. And most importantly: questions are asked.

When: June 1967. Cultural Festival Discussion Meeting. Conflict. / October 1967. Sekitani’s Jun expulsion.

Where: Kamiyama High School

Who: Sekitani Jun and the student body.

Why: Students’ independence was forfeited.

How: Violence wasn’t used.

What:?

Questions though towards the source and the ‘story’ would be just inadequate and pointless without activating ‘filters’ and setting in motion our critical thinking.

While analyzing the text, the researcher also asks who wrote each source, to whom and for what purpose. This phase is kind of omitted, but Fukube does make a remark on Ibara’s text, since it seems prejudiced in favor of revolutionists. The feelings and the intention of the author might distort the truth and mislead the researcher.

Critical thinking entails among other things the ability to fill in the gaps using logic and previous knowledge from outside the sources. For example, Oreki corrects Ibara when she claims that the revolution was violent, because if we talked about a punitive act, Sekitani Jun would be expelled immediately and not five months later. Reading between the lines and comprehending/clarifying ambiguity is crucial, too. Do you remember when Ibara pointed out that the ‘legendary protest’ and Sekitani Jun’s incident are one and the same—otherwise there would be a visible distinction? That’s making use of linguistic rules. Similar are the cases of the puns/homonyms/heterographs discussed among the four characters (sacrifice-offering, Kanya-Sekitani, hyouka= ice cream-I scream).

And of course we shouldn’t forget empathy. In the historical context, the concept of empathy is much more than just seeing a person, idea or situation through the eyes of another, but rather is a much deeper understanding of the circumstances and concepts surrounding the event. In other words, empathy is ‘wearing one’s shoes’ and reconstructing a situation/an era. Oreki seems to excel in it.

If there are still holes in the conclusion, the researcher might need to revise his/her sources or search for more. Texts aren’t the only type of sources available. Paintings, artifacts, clothing, even buildings are considered sources of equal value. Hyouka’s cover is a very good example that was unfortunately mentioned in the afterward of the conclusion. Its symbolism could be easily decoded and supplement or testify for the theory they’ve formed.

The niece of time arc ends with an interview with an eyewitness, namely Ms. Koriyama Youko, the librarian. As shown finding an eyewitness can be elusive, especially when it comes to women who drop their maiden name after marriage. Usually it is even more elusive— they had great ‘luck’ that she was still around town, and moreover working in the school from which she graduated. Eyewitnesses are valuable, but they can only present their point of view, which isn’t always sufficient when someone tries to approach the truth as objectively as possible.

That’s how history is written in simple words. I hope you had a fun ride reading this and I wish you can see history with Chitanda eyes from now on ;)

Round the Sphere

Welcome to the first Round the Sphere! Every Friday, I will list interesting things I stumbled upon that week. They won’t always involve a theme but this week, let’s take a look at gender. Have a great weekend~

Fenrir believes that girls can play too!

Speaking of video games, Ogiue Maniax has high hopes for Sarkeesian’s kickstarter.

Saber from Fate/Zero is… boring?! Submissive? Rabbitpoets wants others to chime in.

I always thought Motoko is portrayed as female. She laments that “it’s that time of the month” before she dives off the building? Ryan shares his thoughts on Motoko and nudity.

Ever attended a con? Cosplayed? One of my favorite bloggers The_Patches and Lauren Orsini need your help! Please take their survey.

Even wolf world is capitalism. Arashi No Yoru Ni.

Interbestial friendship (or interspecies romance?). Hetare Gabu’s salvation.

Our human world is capitalism. Whoever earns the most gets all. Winner-takes-all. Like a competition among the salesmen, whoever sells the most earns the most, and monopolizes all the attention from girls. The harsh law of survival of the fittest, natural selection, the same law of neoliberalism spread by Ronald Reagan, Maggie Thatcher, and Koizumi Junichirou.

Koizumi spread neoliberalism in Japan, made more otakus to struggle sexually.

Continue reading Even wolf world is capitalism. Arashi No Yoru Ni.

AM2 2012: Toshihiro Kawamoto Panel Livetweets

Toshihiro Kawamoto, a prominent animation director and designer for Studio Bones (and staff on Cowboy Bebop for Sunrise before that), came to AM2 this year. He talked at the panel about Bones’ more recent projects and answered questions from the audience. (We interviewed him two years ago at Anime Expo.) Here’s a record of the tweets I made during the panel!

Panels at AnimeNEXT 2012

Keeping score at Insane Manga 18+ panel

For me, no matter what sort of conventions that I have been able to attend, I always make time to attend panels. Because for me attending panels often is a matter of wanting to learn topics, and or see what was discussed. Call it the student in me. I often leave the panel with notes and plenty of thoughts on “Oooh these titles I should see!” or “I didn’t know that this was such a title.” or “Why didn’t they discuss this?” and among other thoughts. Each panel that I attended was well attended with people. Now to sum up the panels I was able to head to.

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Recommending in spite of technical difficulties

15 Recommended Manga for Grown Ups

Outside of the Manga Library, there weren’t as much manga programming at AnimeNEXT, so I made the most of it, since I enjoy manga topics. This was hosted by Xan (@spiraken) from Spiraken’s Manga Podcast. It was also unavoidable that there were technical difficulties, so instead of a handy projector, and microphone. Xan had none, so it turned into an informal presentation where he showed his small laptop screen to a packed room. As with other panels of a similar nature Xan made recommendations that would inevitably lead to other titles being thrown in there. Manga in Japan has had long runs, so based on how English publications have been for mangas many of these titles have been incomplete or published in a condensed mis-matched order. What I like about this panel was the mention of “obscure” publishers like Fanfare. However I was also reminded that panels like this is ultimately relying heavily on the panelist’s experience, so this is not the definitive list for adult readers. The following is a long list of what titles were mentioned in Xan’s panel.

Disappearance Diary · Moyashimon tales of agriculture · Battle Angel Alita · Drops of God · MPD Psycho · Monster · Sanctuary · Ooku The Inner Chamber · Detroit Metal City · Great Teacher Onizuka · Black Lagoon · Golgo 13 · Hellsing · Bio Mega · Wounded man · Path of the Assassin · Samurai Executioner · Lone Wolf & Cub · Lady Snowblade · Book of Human Insects · Adolf · Black Jack · Phoenix · Swallowing The Earth · MW · Ode To Kirihito · With The Light · Solanin · Honey & Clover · Genshiken · Ghost In The Shell · Red Eyes (non-English) · Sommeliere (non-English) · Bartender (non-English) · Mail · Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service · Pluto · Homunculus (non-English) · Old Boy · Eagle · Mushishi · Sengoku Basara · Golden Boy (non-English) · You’re Under Arrest · Gokusen (non-English) · Guin Saga · Blade of the Immortal · Lupin III · Kaiji (non-English) · Freesia

Painting of Tanuki with Big Balls

Youkai Nation

This was a panel run by Charles Dunbar (@studyofanime) and is a follow up of his Youkai panel in the previous years. As far as I know Charles is always changing up his panels, and they are always interesting ones showcasing his education, and pretty much throwing his research at the audience. I would never want to encounter the horrors mentioned in Charles’s panels, but watching anime that mention youkai has been a bit of an interest of mine. Not every day that I hear of the Japanese being a superstitious society.

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Evan talking about Adaptations in Anime and Manga

Adaptations in Anime/Manga

This was run by Evan Minto of AniGamers. This panel was about  various source material or spin offs that can occur with adapting it into other media. There are advantages and disadvantages. At this time, the trend for many anime is the usage of light novels as a source material. It is rare to see adaptions in manga to manga, but Kingyo’s Used Book is an example of such a scenario. Adaptations to manga from an existing anime is usually not great. Live action Hollywood adaptation have tanked, and what was coincidental was that over the weekend there was also a roasting viewing of the live action Dragon Ball Z done by Kyle Hebert.

Fanthropology Forum

This was an open room discussion, moderated by Charles Dunbar with participation from Evan Minato and Ink from AniGamers. There were many thoughts about this topic, but one repeated comment is compared with Sci-fic or comic conventions, this (U.S) industry is too young, and it imports another culture products. Many people at this time won’t be having that much spending money, but with time. A possibility in purchasing power?

Style and Subsence 50 years of Anime Openings

This was a panel ran by Charles. As I tweeted, there were audience members that treated this panel as a karaoke experience, due to personal familiarity of the anime and opening song. Another panel that I made it to of this similar nature with Alex Leavitt’s back in Anime Boston 2011. The openings were split into categories of Chronology,  Atmosphere, Character and Narrative, Music and Style, WTF? and Filler Arc. Speaking with Charles afterwards, he mentioned that this was a fluid panel, easily amended and changed. Anime openings has multiple meanings, and under the broad umbrella of anime, what type of openings can fit for you under these defined category?

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Underrated Anime Titles

This panel was not advertised or announced in the programming, so attending this panel was a comfortable crowd. Sensei, The Insatiable Critic with a friend ran this panel. There were technical difficulties at this panel that was unlike what I experience with Xan’s panel. This panel spoke about anime titles that were not as well marketed in the United States, and may have slipped under the radar for people. Heat Guy J and Saint Seiya were among those that were mentioned by the panelists. Toward the end of the panel, people were able to chime in with their thoughts as to what they believed were underrated series.

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The Insane Manga Challenge 18+

This was quite the fun panel for me. Ran by Xan (@spiraken), he tested audience members in terms of manga knowledge. I got the chance to assist in handing out tickets and keeping score. Though by the latter end of the panel, I just got into being an enthusiastic audience member. Due to sexual and adult subject matter, this panel was carded at the door, and there were three rounds, with two overtime rounds. It became pretty 18+ silly toward the end, but overall it was an enjoyable game. Toward the end also Evan and Ink of AniGamers also became contestants, Evan swept the game, but a stumper or a comic point was the adult keywords and numbers that was added/changed every question and answer. Jan-Ken-Pon was also used toward the end as a buzzer option, when two or more people wanted to answer.

Beyond Castles, Forests and Houses: Philosophy in the Works of Hayao Miyazaki

After a couple of years of knowing Charles, and missing this panel for the past couple of conventions. I finally got to wet my feet and experience Charles talking about Hayao Miyazaki. Understanding about Miyazaki’s life and contribution is not new to me, but to watch it presented by a good speaker was great. I was able to be entertained by this video that was shown toward the end of the panel. Combined with music and a matter of re-ordering events in Totoro, it turns this into a thrilling/predator feature.

Thus this ends my panel hopping for AnimeNEXT 2012. Remember to check out a portion of my photos uploaded at AD’s Flickr account.