Archive for the 'anime' Category

Cowboy Bebop THE REWATCHENING

[IMPORTANT HELPFUL NOTE: It may amuse (some of) you to imagine me as a tall, lanky, blonde American, bedecked with cowboy hat and riding spurs, perched upon a horse which happens to be in an elevator at the current moment. You might also want to whistle a bit. Perhaps this will set you in the correct mood for this post, my position, and my general capabilities regarding the following.]

As I have promised for approximately five years, I have rewatched Cowboy Bebop, a series which has caused me no small amount of largely inexplicable consternation over the eight years it has been since I first watched it on one lonely August day when I probably should have been running around outdoors and overturning rocks to see what sort of disgusting things lie under them (either worms or communal copies of Playboy, depending on who you ask). This consternation is largely founded on the fact that I manage to evade the extremes of opinions about Cowboy Bebop: I neither worship it as the feather of truth that the hearts of other anime must be weighed against, nor do I revile it as some kind of impure anime too tainted by Western influences to qualify as “true anime”. I exaggerate, of course, but I’ve never really felt like I ought to throw my weight behind the “why can’t we have more anime like Cowboy Bebop?” position. I’m not even sure that the opposite position exists, as Cowboy Bebop seems to be so universally beloved of nearly everyone that assessing it as anything less than a superlative example of the fine art of Japanese animation takes on the air of trying to explain to the Pope that maybe these “indulgence” things aren’t the best idea.

Part of the problem is, of course, is that Cowboy Bebop is actually an extremely polished, highly enjoyable series. The cast is likable, the animation is fluid, most every episode is well-structured, and Shinichiro Watanabe pulls it all off without batting an eye. I had forgotten, in the Eight Year Exodus, that many of the episodes are just sheer, gleeful fun: the comic episodes were always my favorites, especially “Stray Dog Strut” and “Mushroom Samba”, and I noticed this time around that Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV is far more horribly underused than I remembered, taking a back seat to nearly everything (this is a travesty and I demand the spinoff). Even episodes such as “Speak Like a Child” and “Hard Luck Woman” that blend comedy with more dramatic events work well for me, although that might just be the peculiarities of the themes they deal with.

The more dramatic episodes and moments, though, are the ones that stymie me the most. The episodes that deal specifically with Spike’s backstory and ultimate BANG tend to leave me constantly checking the time remaining on the episode and wanting to send a letter back in time to the staff that reads “Yes, I get what you’re doing here thematically. Get on with it.” Possibly the worst offender is actually “Ganymede Elegy”; the second half of the episode felt as though the series were doing everything short of holding up a cue card that reads “BE SAD AND EMOTIONALLY MOVED HERE” to get the viewer to feel emotion, veering dangerously close to blunt force trauma with Tragic Narrative with Thematic Resonance. It’s moments like this—where characters are impelled along their paths by the mechanized workings of Theme—where any subtlety that may or may not be present is lost or disregarded through the blatantly mechanical operations of the plot’s thematic ends.

These episodes tend to feel emotionally flattened and dead to me. The mode fits well with the major themes of the work: the characters are living a half-existence, suppressing their emotions as they’re thrust forward on the linear rails of fate dictated by the events in their pasts. It’s also styled with the classic Hemingwayean hardboiled style, quite common in noir fiction and film: depict the actions of the characters truly enough, and the audience will perceive and feel the emotions underneath.

Something about the flat deadness of the hardboiled style tends to turn me off it, though: in Cowboy Bebop, I can perceive the emotions under the surface, I can understand from whence they come, and I can feel sympathy for the characters, but, with a few exceptions, I can’t seem to bring myself to really care a great deal about all of this. I don’t feel wrenched, or even a vague sorrow, but as though I am merely abstractly noting that a person feels a certain way. The exceptions—Faye watching the Betamax tape from her youth, Ed leaving the Bebop after her prodigal father—may be due to similarities from my own experiences or even just thematic familiarity from previous stories I have read and watched.

Still, at the end of the day, any real issues I have with Cowboy Bebop are largely dependent on my own personal idiosyncrasies, symptomatic not of issues within the series itself but of individual aesthetics. I have scarcely a complaint with how the series tends to let the cast pinball around within the confines of an episode; the rest seems simply a mismatching of formal aesthetics. Everything is handled exactly the way Watanabe wants it to be handled, and it snaps together nicely, but the way Watanabe handles things and the way I make personal connections to stories just don’t jibe well, and it’s disingenuous to shift responsibility to the series because of that.

Nevertheless, it seems to be the dividing line between my reserved but high opinion of the series and the adulation and idolization that I sometimes see for the series. I can easily understand why someone might feel so fervently about the series to make it their favorite series, or even a benchmark series for quality anime, but I cannot feel it for myself. It is a conscious, knowing appreciation, and not a gut-level appreciation, and that, I fear, makes all the difference.

As a sort of last-minute parting shot, it’s also possible I find myself identifying more with the characters who accept the burden of their past and face the future, rather than those who are more a prisoner of their pasts. I also note, with some amusement, that the two major characters who resolve to face the future—Faye and Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV alias Françoise—are female, while Jet seems to remain in present-day stasis and Spike, well, BANGs. I can’t tell if this is an angle worth serious thematic exploration, or even if I’m qualified to tackle it, but it struck me as interesting.

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The Social Fandom, The Solitary Fan: An Inconclusive Theory

Long, complicated intersections of conversations and renegade trains of thought yesterday resulted in the singularly obvious observation that simpler, more accessible stories are always going to be more popular (and possibly more ephemeral) than the more complex, less accessible stories will be. While your mind is busy comprehending the sheer obviousness of that statement, I’m going to spend a wee bit more time with it in relation to the greater concept of fandom (maybe).

Fandom is, essentially, a social activity. One can be a “fan” of something without necessarily being social, but “fandom” exists in the social sphere and is the social function of being a fan of something. The word “fandom” provides the perception of a monolithic entity even as we recognize that fandom consists of people with wildly differing temperaments, personalities, tastes, and extra-fandom interests. When we speak of fans, we refer to the general monolith of fandom; when we speak of a fan, we refer to a specific person within the fandom. In other words, “fans” can be abuzz with social gossip and conversation that any single given member of fandom might not care about, lending apathy, confusion, or anger to the fan whose concerns lie outside whatever the latest gossip is. We see the effect in a giant robot fan isolated in a sea of “omg did you see that pantyflash?!”, and we see it in the cute girl fan isolated in a sea of “omg did you see that rocket punch?!”; this effect is, of course, multiplied when you’re both talking about the same series.

In light of this, it’s important to remember that there are two directions that works tend to lean: one reaches out, towards the social environment; another reaches in, towards the text itself. Northrop Frye refers to these as the “centrifugal” and “centripetal” motions of literature respectively; in a move that will either please or displease my English degree-holding overlords, for this purpose let’s assume that the “centrifugal” or outward-movement is directed towards fandom, and the “centripetal” or inward-movement is directed towards a fan. Both of these exist simultaneously in any given work, especially considering that to have any centrifugal effect, a work generally must have some sort of centripetal effect.

It should come as no surprise, then, that there are some works that are more amenable to all the multitudes of fan activities that fandom is comprised of. Regardless of the relative quality or popularity of works that possess this trait, they tend to be simpler and broader in their appeal. They are the works that are easy to like and, conversely, easy to dislike; they are our SHIN MAZINGER SHOUGEKI! Z-HEN on TELEVISIONs, our K-ON!s, our Maria-sama ga Miterus, our Code Geass-s. For whatever reason, the centrifugal response that manifests in fandom comes naturally, and so they tend to dominate most public discourse simply because it’s easier to.

On the other hand, there are some works that are more amenable to the vagaries of an individual fan than fandom at large. Again, regardless of the relative quality or popularity of works that possess this trait, they tend to be complex and focused in their appeal. They are the works that are difficult to like or dislike, and more likely to leave a strong, positive impression on the viewer; they are our Serial Experiments: Lains, our Kaibas, our Sky Crawlers-s, our The Girl Who Leapt Through Times. For whatever reason, the centripetal response that manifests as a personal response to the work comes naturally, leaving them to be more subdued when discussed in a social context.

We have, of course, temporarily ignored the giant Day-Glo elephant in the room, which is that every work has some degree of leaning in either direction. Some works will actually lend themselves well to both ways, able to draw in and maintain a broad audience while still providing the complexity needed to provoke more personal and analytical reactions. These tend to be the major landmark successes: they are the Neon Genesis Evangelions, the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiyas, the Mobile Suit Gundams, the Tengen Toppa Gurren-Laganns. They tend to provoke controversy and leave lasting impacts in both fan and fandom, occasionally in society itself.

The two directions, also, entail different types of social interaction, it seems: the centrifugal direction finds its home making simple subjective judgments, i.e. “this character > that character”, “this episode > that episode”, “this show > that show”, etc.; the centripetal direction tends to provoke more analytical responses than simple subjective judgments, and finds its expression more an “appreciation” than an “enjoyment,” although certainly enjoyment is a major factor for it as well. This also accounts for some amount of weirdness when a work we consider to be directed in one direction is treated in the other; we all scratch our heads over the “Sky Crawlers sucks I give it negative eleventeen stars” as much as we have the “The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Maria+Holic: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes.”

What does this all get us, besides an inadvertent preliminary draft of Northrop Frye (With Creative Embellishments) for Anime Fans? I’m not entirely for certain, unfortunately, but I can hardly think it disadvantageous to take a step back and realize that sometimes there’s a reason a woefully ignored, brilliant masterpiece isn’t getting discussed as much as the flavor-of-the-week: it’s harder to discuss, especially on a place like the Internet, the primary function of which seems to be demonstrating that inane prattle is exactly as common as it is, rather than the fervently-hoped-for less so.

A quick bibliography:

This Ask John article sparked the conversation that sparked the process that ended up as this post.

Also read cuchlann’s excellent postulate of where fandom comes from, as applied to Maria-sama ga Miteru but also generally applicable as well.

If you somehow develop the urge to read Northrop Frye and you haven’t already, The Anatomy of Criticism is a good place to start. Or, at least, it’s the one I recently read. It also happened to make sense but that’s likely just me.

Glass Mask (2005): NEW ROLES ARE BORN FROM PAIN.

When I started poking around Crunchyroll several months ago, the first oddity I noticed was not that they carried Fist of the North Star or even Galaxy Express 999, but that they were streaming the 2005 anime adaptation of Suzue Miuchi’s classic (and still-running) manga from 1976, Glass Mask. I had wanted to see this particular adaptation (or, better yet, the 1984 version) since I heard about it, but, alas, those were the days when you were required to rely upon the vagaries of fansubbers for semi-obscure series such as this one, and, to my knowledge, there wasn’t a complete set of fansubs out for either the 1984 or the 2005 version (honestly, though, there might be some VHS fansubs of the 1984 Glass Mask floating around). Not wanting to start a series that I had no hopes of completing within a reasonable timeframe, I elected to wait until access to the whole series came about.

Now that I’ve finally managed to start it and get a decent distance into it, I can honestly and objectively say that Glass Mask is most likely the most exciting—excuse me, EXCITING—anything about acting that you will ever see, hear, or read.

I could probably just end this post there, but I realize the audacity of that statement and so I feel compelled to justify it somewhat.

Glass Mask tells the story of Maya Kitajima, a young middle-schooler with the innate ability to memorize and recite lines of a play after hearing them only once. This ability places her in the sights of horrifically disfigured former actress Chigusa Tsukikage, the one actress who has played the legendary role of the Crimson Goddess and the one person with the rights to authorize another person to play the eponymous role for the long-unperformed production. Tsukikage (who dresses entirely in black, has Magic Hair that covers up her disfiguring eye injury delivered from a falling spotlight, and should really lay off her pack-a-day habit) is now an embittered woman, but in Maya she sees the raw potential that she can mold like clay into the Perfect Actress who can finally accurately portray the Crimson Goddess.

This is (was) the most beautiful actress in the world.

There are two things standing in Maya’s path to fulfill this goal, though: one, her family, who collectively thinks it’s a great idea to force Maya to deliver 99 ramen bowl sets in three hours so she can have a ticket to attend a play (this ticket, it should be noted, is promptly thrown into the icy waters of Tokyo Bay by a vengeful sister and Maya nearly catches her death of hypothermia trying to retrieve it); and two, Ayumi Himekawa, an actress of considerable talent who declares herself Maya’s rival (Maya, on the other hand, could care less about rivalship) and generally is part of the villainous director Hajime Onodera’s elaborate schemes to wrest control of the Crimson Goddess play away from Tsukikage by crushing her hopes at every possible turn.

The first obstacle is quite easily dispensed with, as apparently all it takes after Maya is accepted into Tsukikage’s troupe is an incident where Maya’s enraged mother throws a conveniently placed kettle of boiling water upon Tsukikage, following which all letters of apology and/or correspondence from Maya’s mother are immediately consigned to the flames by Tsukikage.

The second obstacle has yet to be surmounted in over thirty years, but experts predict that this might soon be finally overcome.

Matters are, of course, complicated by such pesky things as the fact that Onodera’s producer, the suavely handsome Masumi Hayami, presents himself as an antagonist to both Tsukikage and Maya, but secretly sends Maya purple roses as her secret admirer (ostensibly of her acting skills but c’mon it’s 70s shoujo).

Speaking of 70s shoujo, the 2005 Glass Mask anime remake perfectly captures the particular brand of shoujo that was in vogue in the 70s: the ridiculously over-melodramatic narrative. Glass Mask 2005 does not have the almost joyous panache found in Osamu Dezaki’s adaptations of Riyoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles and Brother, Dear Brother, but instead forswears the ostentation of dramatic chords and quadruple takes for a much more subtly grandiose tone. Insomuch as grandiose can be considered “subtle”. In fact let’s just scrap all these giant words and just say that it plays it much straighter than either Rose of Versailles or Brother, Dear Brother.

You know you're a serious, hardcore actor when your irises and pupil disappear for dramatic effect.

Playing it straighter, however, doesn’t diminish the fact that Maya is pretty much the sole practitioner of what I have come to term hardcore acting, which I can only describe as the acting equivalent of the title role in a Sylvester Stallone film. Tsukikage is perhaps the most ridiculously demanding drama instructor ever, requiring Maya to go to such extremes as living as though she were Beth from Little Women for a week so that she would live, breathe, move, think, and act exactly as Beth did, thereby making sure that her role as Beth was pitch-perfect.

That isn’t even one of the more extreme examples either. I have seen 14 episodes out of 51 total and I have yet to see something that could possibly top locking Maya in the storage shed for two days and then spending the next five days straight having an acting battle while standing in the falling snow coughing up blood. I find this rather hard to imagine getting topped later in the series, but my past experience with 70s shoujo instructs me otherwise. In any other reality that isn’t the Glass Mask reality I’d be wondering why the social workers haven’t shown up and slapped Tsukikage with a child abuse charge or eighty, and a restraining order to boot.

Perhaps the only real complaint I’d raise specifically against the 2005 adaptation (other than the lackluster visuals) is that it’s paced at breakneck speed. I often feel that I’ve somehow missed an episode between episodes (even when I’m watching them one after the other), and there is a tendency to engage in some serious summarization (which has only really cropped up around episode 10), even of the pivotal acting scenes. That said, when they do spend considerable time with an actual performance (most notably Maya’s performance of a fourteen-actor play by herself) the result is highly EXCITING acting, replete with shocked reactions from the audience and running commentary by fellow troupe members and other important characters.

There, sadly, isn’t much more I can really say about Glass Mask, because most of what’s good about it is hard to put in words that aren’t mostly comprised of capital letters. It is an EXCITING experience unto itself, and one that must be seen to be properly appreciated. Whether you’re a diehard shoujo fan, or somehow convinced that all shoujo is composed of quotidian romance plotlines, or looking for a way to dip your toe into the waters of 70s shoujo in preparation for a journey to Versailles, Glass Mask is worth a shot. Now if only we could get the manga licensed over here…

If this doesn't make at least a small number of you want to watch this series, I don't know what will.

You Are All Wrong About Trapeze | Kuuchuu Buranko

Because all Trapeze seems to be is an eleven-episode Denki Groove music video.

I’m not kidding.

Well, okay, it’s not entirely an extended Denki Groove music video–but given that nearly the entire background music was comprised of Denki Groove songs, and how fond this particular Toei team (I use the term “team” loosely, but I’m referring to the loose staff interchange between Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror, Mononoke, Hakaba Kitaro, and now Trapeze, many of which are also Noitamina series) seems to be of Denki Groove, I’m looking forward to the inevitable feature-length collaboration a la Interstella 5555, only with even better music (sorry, Daft Punk–Discovery is awesome, but I’m far more partial to Denki Groove).

As for the actual episode itself, I rather liked it, although I feel certain that I might have liked it less if it hadn’t had the Denki Groove soundtrack to back it up. It certainly isn’t something I’d want to marathon, but the first episode struck a nice balance between sheer absurd lunacy and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink animation. Mind Game comparisons are flying around, and even without having seen Mind Game I’m inclined to believe them. I might have to go watch Mind Game now, but I fear that an hour and a half of sheer insanity like this would probably destroy my brain. But 22-minute packages? That could work.

Also suggestive scenes involving hypodermic needles. That probably wins the award for “most bizarre thing I’ve seen all year”.

Is it pretentious? Is it truly complex and deep and meaningful and spiritually satisfying?

No. It’s a rave party. A really, really weird yet awesome rave party.

I might have said the former a few years ago, it’s true,  especially if someone came at me with the latter angle, but at this point I don’t care anymore.

I really just want an excuse to spam Denki Groove songs at you.

So I will. Because words alone can probably not do Trapeze much justice at all, and if they can, I don’t know them.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Richter Mortis

The post title is apropos of nothing; I couldnt pass up the pun opportunity.

The post title is apropos of nothing; I couldn't pass up the pun opportunity.

So I finished Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 the other day, and I was pretty pleased with it. I gather through my various intelligence-gathering operations that this is an earth-shaking  statement with a potential  magnitude in excess of the one given in the series’ title. And the Richter scale is logarithmic (a 9.0 is ten times worse than an 8.0)  so that’s like extra-scary.

When I saw Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 announced, I got the impression that it would be less Earthquake and more Japan Sinks; less of a thrill-a-minute disaster movie and more of an exploration into the effects of such a disaster upon the populace. Which, of course, is exactly what Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is: Seismologists are expecting a major earthquake in Tokyo in the next few decades in excess of 8.0 on the Richter scale, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 serves part as the story of Mirai and part as a way to point out to the Japanese populace “this is what could happen if this earthquake hits”. Since both kind of interest me (and, being an Armchair Natural Sciences Geek, I feel another pointless lecture coming on), I’m splitting this post into two independent segments.

[As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that seismologists have been predicting that the New Madrid fault is going to bust a move “real soon” for the past few decades now, and some are even beginning to theorize that the fault is becoming more extinct than dormant)

PSEUDO-SCIENCE LECTURE

A larger part of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0t is geared around “what to expect” in terms of the landscape and potential effects that the expected earthquake could have. Tokyo (and Japan in general) has a great deal of earthquake-resistant architecture (seeing as it’s a necessity, it’s easy to see why this is) but the kind of bad thing about most earthquake-resistant designs is that they have to be integrated into the structure itself, and can’t really be retrofitted into the building. I’m neither an architect nor a seismologist so I’m pretty sure that there are some precautions you can take after construction, but you are stuck with what you’re stuck with.

This is significant because not all the buildings in Japan were necessarily built with modern earthquake-resistance technology, and neither were they necessarily built to withstand the forces an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or more might give. Or, at least, so I presume. An 8.0 quake (at 1 gigaton/4.2 exajoules, this is like setting off 66,000+ Little Boys off inside the Earth’s crust) is, more or less, the hand of God reaching down and swatting the planet for bad behavior. In other words, this is the more SCIENCE-y way of stating the blatantly obvious: that shit’s coming down.

This is nowhere as terrifyingly cool as bridge/wind harmonics though.

This is nowhere as terrifyingly cool as bridge/wind harmonics though.

This is probably all mere layman’s knowledge to some/most of you (especially those around the Ring of Fire which I am becoming increasingly convinced is actually Bardos Island), but the one bit of practical seismologic knowledge I remember is that the worst of the damage is not caused by the initial quake, but by the aftershocks, which (expectedly) Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 got very right. The problem with aftershocks is that they are unpredictable and of widely varying magnitude–two very strong aftershocks can occur in close sequence with one another, or a series of small aftershocks will suddenly produce an aftershock that is nearly the magnitude of the original shock (or greater than, in which case it gets to be the main shock and the original gets downgraded). With buildings already seriously damaged from the main shock, it’s the aftershocks that generally cause the majority of property damage (and subsequent loss of life)–which, of course, causes the collapse of the Odaiba bridge and Tokyo Tower.

(if someone out there is a seismologist will you PLEASE come correct me so I can not feel like I’m spreading butchered science thanks)

TOKYO MAGNITUDE 8.0 AND NOMENCLATURE

It is quite frequently said that knowing one’s true name gives one power over them, and this is certainly true; one needs only to turn to Death Note to realize that, with your full, true name, someone can craft an elaborate death scenario for you. Even everybody’s favorite semiotician Umberto Eco, in the Postscript to the Name of the Rose, said that he gave very strong consideration as to the title of The Name of the Rose, considering that the title of the book often can “force” a certain reading or interpretation upon the reader; considering that the point of The Name of the Rose was to highlight how different readers perceive the same book in different ways, this is a Big Deal.

As such, it’s often the case in anime that the names of characters are selected with a certain kind of meaning or a representation to their personality. This occurs in English and other languages, of course (we have huge name dictionaries for just this sort of thing), but in Japanese names are somewhat malleable in meaning: often, multiple kanji constructions can produce the same name reading, not to mention the use of hiragana and katakana. I don’t pretend to be an expert on reading names in Japanese but I can certainly run their composite kanji through a kanji dictionary!

Mirai is pretty much the most obvious name ever; I think most people could have picked up on the intended meaning without knowing a lick of Japanese outside of commonly heard anime expressions. 未来 (Mirai)  is, of course, the word for “future” (a literal reading is “not yet | come”). If we take Mirai to be a representation of the current youth (the “future”) of Japan, then bits of her character make complete sense to me. I always felt like the first episode was the most gut-wrenchingly depressing thing I’ve ever seen, as Mirai’s life mirrors some of the more nasty things I’ve read and heard about Japanese home life: exhausted and absentee parents, the grinding school system with entrance exams, and the general feeling of disaffection that seems to be common in Japan (and elsewhere in the world–I’ve seen families in America that would fit the bill to a T). These are potential sources for some of the social ills that crop up in discussions of Japanese culture: hikikomori, the declining marriage and birth rate, and a tendency towards monotonous escapism, to name a few that pop in my mind (again, none of these strictly limited to Japan).

From Mirai’s perspective, then, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 became a story about reuniting with the nuclear family that had no nucleus: before the quake she dismissed her family as unimportant and uncaring, a nuisance to be avoided; after the quake, though, she realizes that the central part of her life is her family and not her self, in no small part due to Mari’s presence and generosity and the fact that Mari actually has a cohesive, if atypical, family unit.

Yuuki, on the other hand, poses a bit of a challenge. When it suddenly occurred to me to look at the character names a bit closer (I think episode 10?), my first instinct was to assume that Yuuki’s name was written 勇気, or “courage” (lit. “courage | spirit/aura”). Alas, this was not to be, for his name is actually written 悠貴, which has no composite meaning that I’m aware of but is literally read “permanence/distant | value” or (more poetically) “permanent value” and/or “distant value”. Obviously this presages a certain plot element that some draw objection to, but I find the temporal implications interesting.

Mirai slowly gets to understand and appreciate her brother over the course of the series, doing a gradual 180 on her opinion of him. Almost as soon as she begins to value him more thoroughly, though,  she comes face-to-face with the ephemeral nature of that value. In fact, it’s only after he dies (and hangs around as a phantasmic spectral entity) that she comes to realize the full extent of the value she placed upon him. The fact that he spectrally hangs on (or that Mirai hallucinates him in denial of his death) proves (in a thematic sense, anyway) that Yuuki’s “value” is permanent. The “distant value”, though, is twofold: before Yuuki died, Mirai was ignorant of his value to her (and vice versa) and thus “distant” as in “unrecognized”; after his death, Mirai is painfully cognizant of his value, but the “distant” now stretches across a different gulf and is closer in meaning to “unreachable”.

Simply put: you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve not got it anymore. And that’s probably the most important thing to take away from Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 socially: what we’ve got now is neither stable nor permanent, and is vulnerable to a high-magnitude seismic shift that could send everything toppling and turn order into chaos. When that happens, however it might, all that’s left is to gather up the pieces that remain and form order out of chaos.

[I should note that I’m using WWWJDIC’s version of edict, and interested parties in to what I’m not telling you about the kanji (every kanji tends to have multiple similar but different meanings) should probably consult there and perhaps elsewhere and then beat me over the head with how wrong I am.]

New York Anime Fest 2009: A Mildly Belated Report

JUST SO YOU KNOW I KEEP UPDATING THIS POST (it’s like a time-delayed live-blog)

I should mention before I start that I’d never been to an anime convention before, a fact which astounded a good many people who bumped into me at the convention.

I think SDS took this photo. Yes thats me. No, you may not.

I think SDS took this photo. Yes, that's me. No, you may not.

Anyway, last weekend was the New York Anime Festival, and I was there (along, mostly, with SDS, Hisui+Narutaki+Kohaku, and Dave, while trying to re-enact Green Acres in reverse), and it was fun, although I’m still a little woozy from the insanity, the madness, and other things that weren’t Yoshiyuki Tomino.

And speaking of, Tomino was more or less the best part. The fiasco at the keynote speech has no doubt been done to death, so I’ll just say that the poor translator was obviously in over his head. Tomino himself was pretty grand, though: one of my favorite things he said (that wasn’t a 1o-second Tomino one-liner) was how essential he felt it was for anyone engaging in creative activities to invest their feelings and personal experiences into what they create. He mentioned the experience of running away from a B-29 bomber in his childhood as well as growing up inunduated with science fiction TV and movies, and how much different his work would have been if he had only experienced one of those. I also loved, along the same lines, how he stressed the necessity of a broad experience of life and media, a sentiment echoing Tezuka’s famous statement that “in order to make new manga, don’t read manga”. Many older fans feel concerned that the younger generation is straying away from these roots–I was reading Matt Alt’s synopsis/reaction to Toshio Okada’s Otaku Are Already Dead and Okada, too, harps upon how younger otaku aren’t actively engaged in broadening their horizons as much–and while I think it is a valid and major point of concern, I hesitate to overgeneralize a diverse group of people in this time of global paradigm shifts in almost every sector of industry and culture.

But, I digress.

ITS A HAPPY HARO!

IT'S A HAPPY HARO!

The ten-second Tomino snark replies (my favorites being “Civilians are more likely to die” and “Adults are the enemy, and I am a very old man, so I am the SUPER-enemy, so you shouldn’t listen to me ever”) were also great, and I got tickets for the Friday night signing, and got the liner notes for the third Turn-A Gundam OST signed. I’m still not sure if it was because SDS had him sign his Zambot 3 boxset just before me, but he was super-happy about it–he looked at it for a minute before he signed it, and I heard happy noises. As well, the clip reel of every Tomino series (that isn’t Garzey’s Wing) was amazing (I was vastly pleased with the loud support for Turn-A), and Ring of Gundam was…interesting, if short.

Its me. With a very happy Tomino. That is my superpower.

It's me. With a very happy Tomino. That is my superpower.

With regards to the rest of the convention, more or less I hit up the industry panels, which were strategically placed throughout the con just well enough to render nearly any other con activity useless. My favorite was the Del Rey panel, as I had yet to be exposed to the awesome hilarity of Ali Kokmen. I had to miss the Vertical panel (they licensed Twin Spica!) due to the Tomino keynote being counter-scheduled (which I still think is the most egregious error made there), but I did get chances to talk to Ed Chavez and picked up Summer of the Ubume and Guin Saga v1 (only I could go to an anime convention and buy novels, although I do hope that Vertical sold more novels than those I picked up, and I was going to get Apollo’s Song later but missed out). I don’t know if the CPM retrospective counted as an “industry” panel but it was pretty much the most dangerous (and most hilarious) panel at the convention–just the story about how all new employees were sat down in front of a TV, made to watch Urotsukidoji, and then had to sign a waiver that stated they consented to working on things like that (and, as Sevakis noted, “Urotsukidoji was tame“) was worth the hour of sitting there (and there were a lot of great things going on in the CPM panel)

And, yes (for those who did attend the Blogger’s Roundtable panel) that was me up there and yes there were a lot of people on the panel and yes I don’t speak in public well (especially impromptu oh god) and yes I had the handwritten placard because I told Narutaki I was “kind of thinking about doing the panel but I wasn’t sure yet” to which the response was all “I’ll make you a placard and it’ll be awesome”. In somewhat related news, I also ran into Erin and Noah of the Ninja Consultants Podcast and talked with them over microphone for a while about moe (badly, but hopefully amusingly in both the right and wrong ways), working in a library, and getting to freelance for Otaku USA, and maybe other things that I can’t quite remember at the moment. Other people that I remember meeting and talking directly to for longer than a few seconds include moritheil, Deb “I have a 401(K)!” Aoki, Chris Schmitt (also of Otaku USA), omoikane (which was actually more of a “acknowledgement of existence” and then con business hit), VamptVo, kransom, and the owner of the French Fries of Forgiveness and Friendship (you know who you are). To all of the aforementioned, and those that I may have crossed paths with and didn’t talk to or recognize or have had Temporary Memory Lapse, I thank you very very much for not punching me in the face. Although I’d be okay with that, too, if you know Hokuto Shinken–if I have to die, that is admittedly the best way.

Also Dave Cabrera HIMSELF was kind enough to sign my Colony Drop business card.
Also Dave Cabrera HIMSELF was kind enough to sign my Colony Drop business card, where hot pink is the new color of manliness.

I also caught Cencoroll, and all I really can say (or feel like I should say) is that it was amazing. It’s a simple story of boy-meets-girl, boy-is-disinterested-in-girl, girl-is-interested-in-boy, girl-proves-self-indispensible-to-boy, boy-grudgingly-accepts-girl’s-presence-in-his-life, but it was well-told with a heavy dose of quirk and transforming independently mobile blobs. I was a lot more impressed by it than I was by Voices of a Distant Star/Hoshi no Koe, but that might be because I didn’t watch Voices until several years after it was released, reducing some of the impact.

Overall, I had a rather exciting first convention. Between the actual con and running around town with SDS, Hisui, Narutaki, and Dave (and failing very rapidly and very hilariously on DJ Max Technika which some arcade around me should have ASAP, and also rockin’ Galaga badly as I do every time I see a Galaga machine), I had fun with both NYAF and in NYC itself. I figure that if I’m threatened with drastic measures to be forced to remain a prisoner of NYC for all eternity (this stopped just short of a geas but did include chaining me to immobile objects so I would miss my train)

On the Nature of Enjoyment (feat. Ange Ushiromiya)

One thing that I’ve noticed as I read a lot of Western fiction and watch a lot of Japanese animation is that occasionally I have to pause and think about the nature of how I enjoy something. This frequently leads to bewilderment and confusion in both myself and others as I try to figure out whether or not liking something in a different way than I like something else means that I like it less (or more). It’s fairly meaningless for me to say something like “Simoun is a better fantasy than William Goldman’s The Princess Bride” when there’s almost zero grounds for any sort of comparison. It might be slightly more meaningful, depending on the context, for me to say “I like Simoun better than The Princess Bride” but then that’s akin to saying “I like celery more than I like bananas”. And sometimes I really want bananas. But right now, what I want is a whole-wheat cracker.

It’s something I feel whenever I think about the differences in the nature and form of enjoyment I take from the Western novel and the anime (or manga, or even what little Actual Japanese Literature™ I’ve read), but can’t quite put in words. And, no, it’s not quite a visual appeal issue, so I can’t solve it by saying “anime has cute girls therefore it’s better/worse [please circle the best choice] case closed.” The closest I can come is placing things into a strange matrix of enjoyment derived from intellectual and emotional means. This is not to say that one is inherently better than the other–it’s best, after all, when both are present in similar amounts–but the method of approach, the ever-mutable intellectual and emotional expectations brought into and taken from a work, seem to alter the nature of the enjoyment I derive.

When I think of a Western (the vague and ill-defined global concept, not Louis L’Amour) novel, for instance, I think of intelligence; this is regardless of whether or not I like the novel under question, or whether said novel is intelligent or not. The novel is praised for being intelligent, for being clever, for doing anything that appeals to intellect; the novel is detested for failing to appeal to the intellect, for being sloppy or sentimental or schlocky, for being the Dread Word “Entertaining”. The observation of this perception is hardly news as it’s been going on for roughly two centuries (give or take some decades), but there’s more to it than Sturgeonesque bitterness towards the intellectual elite. Consider the fact that most defences of entertainment, of genre, of actually enjoying what you read are intellectually adroit, understandable given how they are generally addressed addressed to an intellectual audience that may or may not like to enjoy itself. The fight to enjoy something, to defend something against being deemed “escapist” or otherwise “unintelligent” is to insist on the unconventional intelligence of the works under contention.

I’m not trying to upturn my nose here–I’m as guilty as the next person at wanting and enjoying intelligent entertainment (in all of that phrase’s gloriously fuzzy meaning), and, in all honesty, treating entertainment of any kind as though it were unintelligent by default is damaging to everyone. I read books that I enjoy, and I enjoy books that I read. Yet somewhere in the back of my mind, more often than not I find a novel to be more intellectually appealing than emotionally–no matter how affectionate I am of the novel or how emotionally appealing I found it. Again, this is not bad, but merely an expression of a particular form of enjoyment.

Conversely, when I think of anime (and of Japanese literature in general, to which anime and manga belong, however reluctantly) I find myself thinking far more of emotions. This, again, is hardly surprising: the history of Japanese literature places more emphasis on the emotional side of a story than its logical side. In other words, the emotions and internal workings of the characters play a stronger role than how “real” (or “realistic”) the characters are. I find this notion easy to detect in anime: whether it be Kabuto Kouji full of burning passion to defeat Baron Ashura and Dr. Hell, Akari Mizunashi full of curiosity and delight in the small things, or the complex characters of Macross Plus, emotions–both those of the characters and/or those engendered in the viewer–play a key role in the series and its appeal to its fanbase, no matter how simplistic or complex they might be.

Just as how Western novels blend intellectual and emotional appeal, however, so too does Japan (more so now, with an increase in Westernized attitudes). The Tale of Genji, the first and most significant work of Japanese prose literature, is extremely internally consistent despite its vast cast of characters rarely referred to by name and with shifting titles; the few inconsistencies tend to appear in chapters where Murasaki Shikibu’s authorship is potentially in doubt. There is also anime that offers much to the intellectually-oriented audience–the  films of Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon strike my mind first here, but that may more be due to their larger penetration into the Western market. Even Miyazaki has a strong intellectual appeal, one that may be causing the divide on Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. And there’s the reverse, with more emotional than intellectual appeal, where I think of Key and their ability to take fairly thin characters and still engender strong emotional reactions in their readers and viewers; ef seems to follow in this tradition, if a bit more spectacularly.

In fact, what attracted me to anime in the first place (as I’ve no doubt regaled people with countless times) was the profound emotional effect it had on me; hitherto that point I’d mostly been interested in comedies and was convinced I didn’t like drama at all. The effect of this flip-flopped my attitude not just towards anime and manga but also towards novels and literature; here were emotions I’d not had, or didn’t think I’d like. The result seems to be that I began to understand and explore that which emotionally appealed more to me over that which appealed more to my intellect, and (slowly but surely) move closer to integrating the two. I’ll probably always tend more towards that which stirs the emotions than that which purely stimulates the intellect; but as these two concepts are not diametrically opposed but instead exist on a Cartesian coordinate plane, I can certainly hope to have it both ways (or at least adjust myself as I deem it necessary).

I’ve divided the spectrum between West and East (or West and Japan) and between textual and visual mostly unintentionally, as my initial goal was to muse upon (for my benefit and potential sanity at least) the odd, contrasting natures of how I liked both Western fiction and anime in what generally appears to me to be completely contrasting and contradictory ways (leading to maddening questions like “Do I really like books? Do I really like anime? Do I really like anything? Do I really have too much free time these days? Do I really need to go take a really long walk and just wipe myself out?”). Nothing mentioned here is strictly bounded by borders of nation, genre, or medium, real or imagined.

I think, in some sort of conclusion (have I actually reached one?), it’s worth pointing out that nothing, as the aforementioned Sturgeon said, is ever absolutely so, and examples and counter-examples clearly exist to everything here, and, furthermore, those examples and counter-examples are going to differ depending on the person giving them. But whether it’s just me who thinks this way, or everyone, or if I’m even dead wrong on my (hilariously subjective) assessment of the matter, I think it best to at least keep in mind that there are at least two tandem approaches to deriving enjoyment from any given narrative: one from the intellect and one from emotion. Each manifests itself differently in everyone and people naturally tend towards one more than the other for some narratives and vice versa for others; some will even be able to swap between the approaches at will. And it’s likely that as time passes that the preferences will change as well.

I think I best list some examples so, at the very least, my subjective assessment of all this nonsense will be known, so that perhaps thought processes can maybe be assimilated into some kind of coherent whole by someone who is not me. Oddly enough this also somewhat serves as a “recommended reading/watching” list in a very odd and somewhat haphazardly slapped together at the last minute way.

  • Primarily intellectual:
    Novels: Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh, feed by M.T. Anderson, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
    Anime: Legend of Galactic Heroes, Macross Plus, The Sky Crawlers
  • Primarily emotional:
    Novels: The Six Duchies nonalogy by Robin Hobb, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl
    Anime: Kamichu!, Crest of the Stars, Whisper of the Heart
  • Primarily both:
    Novels: Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    Anime: Revolutionary Girl Utena, Planetes, Toki o Kakeru Shoujo

If this post makes no sense, it is entirely my fault for not being sensible. I’m going to go not think for a while. It might do me some good, and prepare me mentally to think way too hard about information management.


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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