“Kotoura-san” is the anime of the year

Posted on January 19th, 2013 at 3:36 am by astrange

Trip Report: Rokkenjima (Kyu Furukawa Gardens)

Posted on November 26th, 2012 at 11:00 am by astrange

Once upon a time I went to Hinamizawa (Shirakawa-go), home of “Higurashi no naku koro ni”.

This year I happened to find myself in Japan once more, so what better thing to do than continue the series?

The Ushiromiya mansion can be found in Kyu Furukawa Gardens (旧古河庭園), a park 10 minutes north of Akihabara on the Keihin-Touhoku line near Kami-Nakazato Station. It’s actually rather small and cannot be entered by the public, but you can see the outside, the rose garden, and of course the rest of the park (which has an extensive Japanese garden and a pet duck.)

The roses themselves weren’t blooming at the time, so we never did see Maria’s rose.

By the way, both Shirakawa-go and the park have been added to Google Street View, so you can go on a pilgrimage without spending nearly as much as I have!

Madoka Magica movies

Posted on October 22nd, 2012 at 3:47 am by astrange

Last night I went up to New People SF to see the two 120 minute Madoka movies. I don’t think they need a review here – I’ll say it was worth spending 5 hours of travel time for, but hopefully next time I won’t have to take public transit – but without spoiling the series, there were some interesting things about the movie adaptation.

First off, the theater turned out to be pretty small, with almost two rows just being people I knew from Twitter, there was none of the special merchandise, and our tickets were printed on receipt paper. This leads me to suspect that Los Angeles is the only US city Japan believes actually exists.

I don’t exactly remember the TV series scene-by-scene anymore, but as far as I noticed there weren’t many new scenes; new animation instead went into improving the witch fights and transformation scenes, animation fixes, and added OP/ED sequences that really seemed sort of out of place in a movie.

The few new scenes mostly seemed intended to make Homura even more of a main character1. Mami actually lost character development, along with all the adults – her wish isn’t shown and they spent almost all their onscreen time talking about romance. In exchange, Mami’s new theme is really good.

All of the cast rerecorded their parts for the movies, and this time actually knew what the story was ahead of time. I’m not sure it made much of a difference, but Kyouko and QB’s performances stood out as very good. (Kyouko’s the best anyway.)

My only complaint about the translation is that one of the seiyuu used the word sekaikan in the opening comment, and I doubt anyone understood what she meant from the subtitle translating it as “worldview.”

In the end I still think Madoka’s plot is very strong when seen all at once, but Kyouko does suffer a little too much and Madoka really doesn’t have a reason to keep following people around at night. Still, if you haven’t seen it yet you should all go and do it before it’s ruined by sequels!

Discussion questions:

  1. Why does Kyousuke have to stay in bed if he has a wheelchair?
  2. Why don’t Madoka’s parents notice she’s never home at night?
  3. How do magical girls afford apartments?
  4. Are the flights of doves and their teacher’s voice Hidamari Sketch jokes?
  5. Define sekaikan.
  6. Really, Anne Frank?
  1. and MadoHomu the main pairing []

C82 genre stats

Posted on July 12th, 2012 at 2:36 pm by astrange

Source: unknown (Comiket staff?) via Yaraon

This time around the most interesting change is the new section for Tiger & Bunny, which was split out of “Anime (Sunrise)”, and starts out with an enormous 1109 circles; the rest of Sunrise was left with only 269 in the process. Since most of the other girls’-side genres – Reborn, Gundam, short stories and Hetalia – are down this year, I think we can assume their doujin will not feature Dragon Kid but instead gay dads, which I think is what that show is about according to Tumblr.

By the way, fanfiction (‘SS’ in Japanese and most of ‘FC(小説)’ at Comiket) seems to be very popular with fujoshi (including all my English-speaking friends), but I don’t know a single guy including myself who cares about it at all, even though I’ll happily read all kinds of amateurish comics. I’m sure there’s plenty of counterexamples, though.

In other news TYPE-MOON has almost double the circle count compared to where it’s been for years (presumably due to Fate/Zero), Leaf&Key continue to fade away and Touhou is still the most popular genre out there at 2670.

Tezuka’s Apology at the End of “Magic House”

Posted on July 9th, 2012 at 11:18 pm by shii

Translated from pp. 194-7 of Folkloristics as Pseudohistory (Gishi toshite no Minzokugaku, 2007) by Eiji Ootsuka.

One of Osamu Tezuka’s Occupation-era works is “Magic House” [Mahou yashiki, 1948]. For that era of SF, which boasts such works like “Metropolis” and “Lost World”, it’s a mere footnote in Tezuka studies, but for some reason Tezuka under the Occupation produced “youkai works” like this “Magic House” and “Youkai Investigators” [Youkai Tanteidan, 1948]. Foregoing the discussion of the problems his representations of physical disability present to the modern eye, compared to “Youkai Investigators” which has never been reprinted, “Magic House” has received several reprintings which are easily acquired. In this work, after the conclusion of the story, 10 somewhat unusual, youkai grimoire-like pages have been inserted.

[In this scene, which has nothing to do with the rest of the manga,] a bearded grandpa talks to a boy named Ken’ichi-kun [about the manga itself]. Grandpa says things like “For example, when ereki, or electricity was first used in Japan, everyone thought the Jesuits were magicians and were quite frightened,” and “Among the Japanese, there are some elderly people with quite deep superstitions, who really believe that monsters exist,” and negates youkai superstitions in a way akin to the late Meiji period youkai scholar Enryou Inoue. He then leads Ken’ichi-kun into a “Monster Exhibition Room” (Figure 1). This room explains scientifically how youkai are superstitions based in people’s delusions. Finally, the comic ends with Ken’ichi-kun writing in his diary as shown in Figure 2.

Dear Diary,

Today, Grandpa bought a manga book for me called “Magic House”. This book often talked about magic and monsters. Grandpa told me that magic is like fairy tales. I asked him if anyone can really do this kind of thing, and he said no. I think we need to be reading books about more real things.

Note that the monsters that appear in “Magic House” are not the Japanese-style youkai discussed in this epilogue, but are generally Western-style ghosts, as shown in Figure 3. Nevertheless, what the epilogue repudiates is a “superstition” which exists “among the Japanese”, and moreover Tezuka goes so far to have Ken’ichi-kun record this enlightenment in his diary, so this work is thought to be an “Occupation manga”.

Now, compare this 1948 Fuji Shobou edition to the 1953 Shimo Shobou edition, which has been renamed “Magic King”. As shown in Figures 4 and 5, the dialogue and the panels have been changed. The phrase “Among the Japanese” has been erased from the bearded grandpa’s line, leaving it as “Some elderly people…”. Although Shimo Shobou shortened many lines found in the Fuji Shobou edition, was this really a matter of space? And the last page of the Shimo Shobou edition has been completely rewritten. In this edition, the bearded grandpa closes with the following monologue:

Stories of monsters and magical creatures reveal the folk spirit beneath them… it really is a problem of problems, but… of course, it’s not a good thing to really believe in monsters, but I’d like to keep monsters around forever as a dream within the human heart… people who forget to dream will have their heads made stiff and brittle by industrial civilization… hahaha!!

While we change from having “youkai” completely negated as “supersition” to having them affirmed as “a dream within the human heart”, what one should take notice is the line, “stories of monsters and magic [sic] reveal the folk spirit beneath them.” To see the word “folk spirit”, which was an overtly political term during the war, employed in 1953 naturally causes discomfort.

Discomfort in who, I wonder? Well, the book is all about how the concept of “folklore” is evil and makes you a Nazi, so I suppose the author cannot avoid the hilarious conclusion that Japan requires the guiding light of Occupation censors to avoid the horrible danger of enjoying its own folk tales. Still, I found this post-Occupation rehabilitation of youkai quite fascinating.

AX2012 Mirai no Neiro playlist

Posted on July 9th, 2012 at 12:47 am by astrange

Sorry about the delay on posting this.

There were three Mirai no Neiro panels at AX, the first being PVs sent from overseas (translated and presented by us) and the second being discussions by the Vocaloid producers who paid their way to attend. The first panel actually ended up starting quite late and so we managed to re-run it the next day; I wouldn’t really say it was the fault of the con staff, though, and the panel tech crew was very helpful.

Part 1:

0. We started with a hologram concert (AKA rear projection on a mosquito net) run by Amid-P (@AOKI_KC) with a custom video by masatakaP and the songs from:

- Freely Tomorrow by Mitchie M feat. Miku (YouTube | NND)
- Paradise Cage (Guitar edit) by doriko feat. Miku on Les Paul (NND)
- Sadistic Love by Junky feat. Rin (NND)
- Poker Face{Not that one.} by yucha feat. Gumi (NND)

1. Senbonzakura by KurousaP feat. Miku (YouTube | NND)

We think the similarity of the piano to “Native Faith” is a coincidence.

2. Renai Philosophia by KurousaP feat. Miku (YouTube | NND)

3. ASTEROiD by tokuP feat. Miku and SeeU (NND)

A world premiere song and video!

It reminds me of “Escape”, which none of you know about because we ended up cutting it from the panel last year.

4. Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion (Handel), arranged by MiRON-P feat. Luka (YouTube | NND)

5. I Time-Slipped When I Karate-Chopped My Stag Beetle by Ie no Ura de Manbou ga Shinderu P feat. Gumi (NND)

Will try to post the translated version later.

6. Deliver me a Happy Death (Koufuku na Shi wo) by Kikuo (YouTube | NND)

The lyrics to this one are a bit surprising.

8. Through the Window by MasatakaP and ELECTROCUTICA (YouTube | NND)

It’s about Windows 8.

9. Welcome to the Tea Party by PAC (1, 2)

A series of MMD shorts.

11. AiDee by Mitchie M feat. Miku and Luka, video by Gtama (song on NND)

I don’t think the video for this one has been posted yet. It’s really good, though!

12. Twinkle Twinkle☆Vocalo by tamachang

Also on the list, but cut for time reasons:
- Aqua and Spaceship by nexus feat. Miku, video by masatakaP (YouTube)
- Freely Tomorrow by Mitchie M, video by Gtama (see above!)

Part 2:

This one is a little fragmentary since I didn’t take good notes and don’t have the playlist.

- DeadballP showed “Japanese Ninja #1″ (YouTube)

- Dixie Flatline showed the new song “Answer”, the sequel to Just Be Friends (NND).

- odoP (VocaliodP) showed the new song “because the sky is”, which follows last year’s trend of being overtly political! (YouTube)

Mirai no Neiro @ Anime Expo 2012

Posted on June 25th, 2012 at 12:27 pm by astrange

Just like last year, kransom and I will be at AX with D.P.H with new translated Vocaloid PVs and composer guests for you.

The panels are at 5pm Friday for Part 1 and 10am Saturday for Part 2… in other words, conflicting with everything possible. Nevertheless, it’d be lovely if you showed up.

Check back here afterwards for the video list; I actually have plans to post the videos this year too.

I also plan to actually finish writing about C79 at some point, but then I keep not doing it.

Review: Momo e no Tegami

Posted on April 22nd, 2012 at 6:54 am by shii

What is this, Shii’s Anime Blog? Uhh, anyway.

Momo e no Tegami, “A Letter to Momo”, is a technically ambitious and heartwarming success by Hiroyuki Okiura (Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Paprika) and Production I.G. that gives me hope for anime films in this decade. The film achieves what a good anime should aim for: fantastic and wonderful images which at the same time astound the viewer with their novelty and retain a touch of familiarity that makes them hauntingly real. It’s a meticulous effort that’s very much worth your time.

You may remember that I was underwhelmed by Shinkai’s Voices from the Other Side, which seemed be a hodgepodge of homages to Ghibli and surreal but poorly assembled spectacles. Momo e looks a little Ghibliesque on the surface, but this is really just because both Miyazaki and Okiura are drawing on Edo period grimoires for source material. Get into the theater and you’ll discover that the cinematography, character designs, and plot arcs are really quite different, and Momo e has its own personality.

The basic plot is rather predictable from the beginning, but it becomes fleshed out and made more engaging by a careful pacing. Unfortunately for me, this film contains a lot of dialect: the islanders speak a rustic, almost humorously archaic variant of Shikoku-ben, and the spirits speak a mixture of 19th century samurai language and other things I could not identify. The latter especially tripped me up a few times and probably requires a native grasp on Japanese, or familiarity with afternoon samurai dramas, to be enjoyed fully. But the archaicisms give the fictional setting a feeling of realism and physical location.

Language is far from the only aspect of the film where exhaustive research has born delicious fruit. I don’t need a “making of” video to know that the director and lead animators must have personally visited islands in the inland sea as a model for their setting. The streets and buildings boast accuracy at every curb, even moreso than Ghibli’s recent Kokurikozaka kara. See if you can spot the cleverly employed pillow shots. Every background has been based on real life reference down to the smallest detail. There must have been some serious observation of island life involved to capture all of the tiny moments we see in the film, such as families carrying water tanks up to their homes and gas-powered elevators running up through the terraced rice fields (棚田). The faces of the human characters also sometimes exhibit an uncanny realism, which can be seen in the trailer.

Another part of the film where background research was both complete and well-integrated is the aspect of the haunted house. The haunted house in Totoro, to use the most obvious example, is just a word used to introduce the cute characters. In Momo e, on the other hand, the number of parallels with real poltergeist haunting proves that the director and writers must have done some real research into the subject. Just as in a real-life poltergeist incident, the haunting begins with strange knocks from unoccupied rooms, then develops into spooky incidents such as invisible hands grabbing people, objects flying across the room, fires being started… or the weirdness witnessed by the adults in this film, which I will not reveal. The haunted family inevitably includes a young child age 6-14, in this case Momo. Eventually the child is named as the culprit, as is the case here (this is not a major plot point), but how a child could pull off such sophisticated conjuring undetected for such a long time, or why they undertook such an effort, is never explained. I don’t expect viewers to be familiar with this branch of parapsychology, but the touch of realism will surely strike a chord unconsciously.

These are just the aspects of the film that stuck out the most to me– I’ll leave other points to other reviewers. In any case, the film blended seamlessly with my experiences of rural Japan, with the result that when the drama reached its peak, I was completely submerged in its world. I was not the only one feeling this way–I could hear a lot of sniffling in the theater. It was one of those films that’s so good you lose track of time and you’re not sure whether you were watching for thirty minutes or three hours, even though in my case I didn’t understand all of the dialogue!

The feeling experienced by the viewer after the curtains close, in my opinion, is a crucial judge of the real quality of a film. When I came out of the theater I felt grateful and moved for having seen such an honest portrayal of life and death. I’m not sure if I would buy a DVD for extended replay, but I would definitely see this film again with friends. My reverie was temporarily interrupted by a theater employee handing out marketing material for the film, including a postcard inviting people to mail in letters they would want to send to lost family and friends. This struck me as a little insensitive, but it doesn’t affect my impression of the film itself, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Independent manga translations

Posted on March 3rd, 2012 at 12:25 pm by shii

Here are some independent manga I translated and never posted about anywhere besides Twitter. I almost started a new blog for this but I don’t think it’s worth it. Let me know if you’d like to get these updates in another form.
Read the rest of this entry »

Analogue: A Hate Story: A Literary and Intellectual Delight

Posted on February 1st, 2012 at 10:54 am by shii

Analogue: A Hate Story

By Christine Love, with art by Raide — released February 1, 2012.
Windows, Mac, and Linux. $15/free demo.
Reviewed by Shii

I don’t like video games. I like to read, a lot, and I like to think about what I’m reading. I think, in theory, there are a lot of people like me out there, people who would jump to pay good money for Analogue: A Hate Story if they realized what it was. But it’s a type of work that slips outside the usual categories of book and game, so getting people to realize that it’s something they should be looking for should be hard. I’ll do my best.

[Note: This review contains no spoilers, but figuring out what exactly is going on when you start up Analogue is a bit of a fun challenge in itself so if you want to play the free demo first you should go ahead and do that.]

Christine Love ought to be a familiar name in the world of interactive fiction, OEL visual novels, and really just indie gaming generally, but I have a feeling that she does not have the fame that she ought to have, because she puts a lot of time into each work and it is an unfortunate fact that this is an age of tweets rushing by us at fifty a second. In Love’s first story-game, Digital, a delicious sci-fi romance unfolds itself as you gain access to hidden nooks of the 1980s BBS world. It was noticed by bloggers writing for The Economist and The A.V. Club. Her next work, entitled “Don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story”, was picked up by The Daily Telegraph but it suffered a bit for having been written entirely within the month of March 2010.

Analogue is much closer to Digital in spirit than “Don’t take…”, but in fact when you launch the game you discover the format is completely unique. Digital was revolutionary in its own way, but the author kind of played a trick on her readers with that game. Enticed by the promise of a BBS world adventure, something with puzzle game elements like Uplink, typical readers don’t realize that most enjoyable part of the work is not playing the game but reading its story until they’ve been swept up in the narrative.

With Analogue there is no such deception, which makes it a bitter pill for gamers. You’re dispatched to an abandoned spaceship, break your way into their computers, and… suddenly you’re presented with a database of diary entries left by some kind of medieval Korean civilization. And that’s it, that’s all the game you’re going to get. What?? How do I click out of this?! Who do I shoot? It perhaps lands somewhere in the accepted range of interactive fiction, but in this case the fiction is its own, segregated body stuck inside the interaction.

Someone who is told Analogue is like an e-book will be similarly puzzled, but in a slowly delightful way. For you don’t have very much to read at the start. You have to ask the computer to tell you more, and the computer is not totally cooperative. Why not? That’s what you have to find out.

No, what you’ve stumbled into is magical and exciting at the same time: to the extent that this interactive fiction is a game, it is a game about sitting in a library managed by unreliable librarians. An unreliable narrator is someone who can’t be trusted to tell the story properly because of other interests in their head that compete with the truth. The use of this distrust to make a novel better was perfected about 60 years ago, and I would argue that nobody has really radically evolved that model before this game. Here, we introduce the concept of the unreliable librarian, someone whose job it is to simply supply you with a completed text, but for some reason is holding it back, and won’t tell you why for reasons of their own. The relationship between you and the library’s AI is meant to be maddening, and if you start falling in love with the obstinate archivists, well, that’s really your own fault because, as they keep reminding you, they’re only AI programs.

For a bibliophile, this is the perfect game: the object is simply to acquire information, and the driving structure that makes it a game is a literary device! And the more I think about it, the more devices reveal themselves. Because of the structure of the game, the only human characters are the dead Korean noblefolk whose letters you read. The interaction that goes on in the game portion is between you and a computer, and the intro screen gets some potshots in at that (“It should be asocial enough for you”).

Looking at the content of the text and the librarians’ reactions to it, we see a well-planned and grand narrative, too. Before anyone asks, no, this is not the sort of template period drama that clogs up Korean TV. Not to spoil too much of your reading, but in the text we witness a clash of cultures, between medieval and modern Korea. Love has not decided for us whether one has to be better than the other, but allows us to think about that for ourselves. Although her depictions aren’t perfect (come on, this is Korea in a spaceship), you start to see how the triumphs and failures of families are a beautiful reflection of the values of a nation.

The AIs are well-written as well. Hyun-ae is quicker to (over)share what she’d like you to do, and you might end up getting her route first, but you’ll also eventually realize how her selfishness is the root of trouble and reflects her modern upbringing. Mute, the medievalist, is the more difficult character: she focuses on duty first and foremost, and tries to recede into the background and “let you work”, forcing you to come to her and help clarify her duty. As a modern, you’ll see her flaws first but eventually realize how they form part of a coherent whole. And as an AI whose personal longings conflict with her duty, she makes an excellent tsundere.

Oh yeah, and underneath this entire story, and game, is an engine that Love wrote herself, based on RenPy. It’s definitely beyond anything I could program myself at this point and I’m much impressed by what she’s done as a one-woman production house.

I have to head off to bed now and I don’t have time to add any additional thoughts on this game, but I hope to read more reviews in the days to come, and I hope I’ve encouraged anyone on the fence to check it out already.