Yutaka Yamamoto, aka Yamakan, got his start as one of the directors of Kyoto Animation’s The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and the director of the first four episodes of Lucky Star. After leaving KyoAni, he established his own studio, Ordet, and went on to make shows like Kannagi, Fractale, and most recently Wake Up Girls!
Yamakan was frank about his opinions of the anime industry, and some additional thoughts about controversial statements he made around the time he made Fractale. Read tweets from his press conference here!
Figured it’d be good to go ahead and share some words regarding the recent simulcast/streaming pull-out over the piracy of Yamakan’s latest series, Fractale. A series which only premiered last week, has experienced what has slowly become a popular occurrence. Bringing to mind the Oreimo pull that occurred via ANN late last year, this strange practice of supposedly having all ramparts covered for a legal means of display on screens nationwide, only to become threatened by a minority of eager folks seems less like a precautionary measure, and more a case of not understanding how the streaming model works.
Because on one hand, we have the system in place where the series can be shown in specified regions, all the while paid for by the use of online ads to pay for the space. Not unlike the way television had long done so. This is something that has been in the works for some time it seems, and yet perhaps frightens some due to it not making anywhere near the numbers some are used to with this type of entertainment. And on the other, as mentioned, this is a young system, filled with perilous gaps, and prone to wavering amounts of doubt as to whether this actually assures anyone on both sides of the Atlantic any real profitability. This is still very much Frontierland as far as many have seen, and has been a point of debate since legal streaming has become mainstream.
Or could it perhaps mean something more fundamentally basic than merely not understanding this young means of anime distribution? Again, one should not merely look at the recent Asahi Shinbun article as a point to contest as Yamamoto is merely a head staffer on the artist side of matters. (But the article should provide some good hint of what was to come) In the end, this is an issue decided by his producers, folks who for one reason or another saw a leak, and reacted in an overwrought, yet predictable fashion. Their onus for sure is to protect their investment, but to not consider the dangers inherent in online distribution seems more than a little retroactive, and not to mention silly for a society once known as a technological powerhouse. Now the details of the alleged act of piracy are sketchy at best, but to not consider the always present danger amidst the internet seems insulting, so in the name of giving the benefit of the doubt, perhaps there is another reason for this. A new development in the history of this show’s production/promotion?
Again, this is all speculation, but could it be a combination of a growing lack of faith in the streaming model,coupled with a more old-school way of looking at a valued product? Even Gundam 0079 was a long-prized title that asked for wildly high amounts before a distribution deal was ever made. As silly as this may sound, perhaps members of the Fractale Production Committee see something we don’t, and have taken it upon themselves to rethink the entire deal. (possibly only seeing salvation in physical sales?) Stranger things have, and can happen. Again, I’m not beyond them merely being reactionary, and desperate to save what they see as a potentially expensive project from being pillaged. But it does stand to reason that many in Japan still hold tight to older models of selling their product, and feel compelled to keep it this way.
Does it still make sense? Not really. Does this move truly combat piracy? Nope. But when a business is unable to see the possibilities, and remain unwilling to discuss it with progress in mind, events like this may continue to cut artists & writers off at the knees. It is this, coupled with a growing dearth of talent in Japan that will kill anime as we know it. But sometimes, it feels like impatient ones, as well as producers wear similar blindfolds to what can potentially save it.
Yamakan may wish to consider the globe with Fractale, but his investors may feel fiscally otherwise.
So happy to see that around the time of my last post, a small group of new shows arrive with my notions well complimented. It seems as though despite the ever glowering cloud of desperation often gumming up recent anime schedules,this worry has finally found a weak spot. That, or the old fixer-upper solutions are no longer working. Whatever the case, it seems that certain prayers may be answered this season as not one, but three shows debuted this last week that offer shining proof that anime can indeed offer more than the expected warm blankie/cocoa combo they’ve been dishing out ad-nauseum over the last several seasons.
(Not that I dislike cocoa, mind you. But one too many makes for a violently upset Wintermuted.)
Starting off with Level E, a punchy, goofy science fiction comedy set in a world where extraterrestrials co-exist amongst the ignorant human population until the day one decides to move into the new home of a young baseball hopeful (Sans permission, and is of the “just won’t go away” quantity.). Both refreshingly funny, and breathlessly retro (the original manga was serialized in the mid 90s-Yes.), the comedy plays like an X-Files parody, with a dose of GTO-like shonen energy for good measure. It is especially fun in how the interplay between lead protagonist, Yukitaka, an ordinary boy who’s prowess in baseball has led him to a potentially exciting new life in a new town, and hopelessly irritating alien prince Baka works. It’s a simple, and yet effective take on the classic straight-man, and the spoiled fool, made all the funnier with the erstwhile prince’s appearance as a strikingly effeminate pretty boy. Add the classic 90s hard manga art style, and the whole package thus far is quite promising. Studio Pierrot (Click Me.) and David may have themselves a memorable little hit on their hands if they continue to expand the world, and drag poor Yukitaka along for the ride.
Level E is available via Crunchyroll (Members now, but free within days!).
Second is clearly on a much more familiar stage, and pays homage to two generations of anime fandom, and as such could be a more dicey project. I write simply about Yutaka Yamamoto’s big-scale NoItamina project, Fractale, which plays like a Greatest Hits compilation of not merely anime favorites, but potentially as contemporary metaphor. In the idyllic fantasy world that resembles an Irish isle surrounded by deceptively analog trappings, where youthful wanderer, Clain seems to live amongst virtual citizens called “Doppels”, his seemingly peaceful virtual life is thrown for a loop when he encounters a mysterious girl on a glider chased by roughs in an airship. So already, this should sound terribly familiar. Right on down to the design aesthetic, we are in a post-cyberpunk take on Miyazaki (or Nadia, pick your poison), complete with simple attractive leads, silly, ineffective villainy, and a love of quiet, open space. But knowing that this is being filtered through the minds of both Yamamoto, a director with a full understanding of the form, and noted critic & writer Hiroki Azuma, this is sure to take come interesting turns as we come to learn more about Clain, Phryne, and the world watched over by the mysterious Fractale system.
The problems with this show are evident in presentation, since it depends so much on either full knowledge of the inspiration, or completely new perspective which can either help or cripple the series as a whole. Long and short, this series, while having a promising debut episode needs to gather steam quickly to fully work. So while some critics may find this inexcusably trite and hopelessly post-modern, perhaps this is only the beginning of a unique exploration of anime fandom as well as the increasing allure of insular living. The show seems to definitely be going in this direction. Here’s hoping they find something truly new and exciting along the way.
And lastly, it should be noted that of all the new shows out this season, the one I’m most hopeful for is AIC Classic’s visually rich & utterly fascinating adaptation of Takako Shimura‘s Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son). Telling the take of young middle schoolers, Nitori, and Takatsuki, a boy and girl who share a secret of wishing to switch genders, the story is told with sensitivity, and a truly unique visual style. So much more interested in letting the lives of the two leads take the forefront, rather than going for the cheap and easy trap route is a bold, and human turn in a medium that is often more restrictive of such notions. Right away, the visuals(much like a watercolor storybook come to life) offer the promise of something altogether new. In fact, bold doesn’t begin to describe it.
If there are any true problems with the debut episode, it is that we are thrust in several volumes into the story that was likely an episode count issue, and could very well make or break the series as a whole. We are given glimpses into their respective lives, but it makes the viewer wish for a much smoother means to get to know them. And as a show with a slower pace than others, it would likely benefit from less compression. But given the presentation, this was likely an impossibility. So the mix can be a bit of a conundrum by design. And yet despite all this, a show focusing on issues of gender identity, and the pangs that come with being young makes for potentially important viewing. There is a lot of emotional truth to all of this, something that can go a long way if Ei Aoki & crew stay the course.
Hourou Musuko is available via Crunchyroll (Members now, but available free in days!)
So with these new shows in the ether, ready to take on a potentially evolving landscape, here’s hoping fans all over are equally as prepared for change as this new year starts off full throttle. I know I am.