The Limits of Discussion Growth

In one of his latest videos, Digibro talks about anime research culture and how it’s been growing, pointing to the tragic aspect of the conversation how regular fans are unable to keep up with it. He wishes for researchers and content creators to organize better so that fans could have an easier time engaging it. While I generally want to see that happen as well, over the years I’ve heard the core of this sentiment expressed so many times I have a hard time taking it seriously. It’s one of those lofty ideas that people romanticize about, but in reality it’s near impossible to implement, because regular anime fans are far more interested in the robe Digibro is wearing than the creators or researchers he name-drops in his videos.

Others have already commented, like @Owningmatt93 who wants to see an outlet that would aggregate well-researched content and make it more accessible to regular fans. In my reply to him I alluded to the following points:

1. Content creators reject gatekeepers

We have four amazing anime databases, namely ANN Encyclopedia, AniDB, MAL, and AniList, yet none of these have any expansive trivia sections for their entries. Leaving out the more superficial reasons for why that is, quite simply it’s because fans have not been campaigning for them. Not a whole lot of researchers, who have devoted excessive hours to developing their expertise, are interested in their work becoming a mere footnote. They want to be regarded as experts respective of subject matter, that’s why almost everybody is posting their expertise on their personal blogs, Twitter, Ask.fm, or Patreon. Even if you don’t agree with the notion of personal brands, that’s where the game is at. The only way to offset this problem is through bypassing researchers and their ambitions altogether.

2. We’d basically need a search engine of sorts dedicated to anime research

How about creating a content aggregator, a Google for anime, that automatically searches and aggregates anime knowledge based on either anime titles or other taxonomies for more structured browsing? I have some experience building information retrieval and extraction systems like that, needless to say any such venture would require a hefty time investment. That being said, it can be done. Finding information, extracting content from different media, enriching it with metadata, then organizing it based on this metadata. That’s what we’re looking for.

One fine approach to organizing it in a way that’s fair and user-independent is Google’s PageRank algorithm. Its most basic implementation works by ranking websites based on their notoriety. For any given search phrase, websites that have the most links pointed to them by other websites for that same topic get listed at the top. PageRank thus enables content aggregators to reward content that has seemingly contributed the most to the conversation.

I’m doing all sorts of anime-related information projects, so this kind of proposal feels like a natural extension to my work. While it is tempting …

3. Building yet another anime database is too much work, wiki sites do a good enough job already

I remember seeing a couple of wikis with amazing communities, such as the Puella Magi Wiki where people went ham on translating related Japanese articles from creators, critics, and industry insiders. It’s amazing what crowdsourcing can achieve if experts who love the subject matter engage with content head on. But Madoka is only one title, one of the more popular ones at that, which brings me to my last point …

4. Fans don’t love anime enough

At least not as much as some of us would like to see. This isn’t a No true Scotsman. Maintaining a critical and informed community of any scope is tough. It only takes one generation of fans to phase itself out and discourage the diehards who had invested time in teaching them the ropes. When one generation moves on to greener pastures and a new one rolls in, the standard of discourse gets deleveled. If you’ve ever been involved in community building, you’ll know that maintaining that standard is an endless struggle.

The only constant in this story are the diehards, which is why I’m fine with personal brand building. They are support structures like any other. If regular fans are able to at the very least point to authorities in the field, then that’s fine. Whether those authorities know shit is a different conversation, but in practice this model does a good enough starter job for the people who are interested in learning more about the hobby.

In the end, it’s not just a matter of delivery or accessibility. Regular fans will need to change as well if we want the conversation to be of higher volume, and of higher quality. The recent sentiments coming out of Japan about the death of “otaku” are not very encouraging. The propensity for engaging complex conversations is likely generational, so based on that signalling I think it’s okay to be a little pessimistic and assume the worst has yet to arrive.

Fune o Amu – The Great Escape

For the discussion at hand I think it’s necessary to point out that there hasn’t been a shortage of anime aimed at adults since the 1980s. However, shows that also feature adult characters and adulthood are a completely different story. Supposedly there’s been an increase of them lately, and while I can’t be bothered to check the statistical relevance of that observation, I don’t think it matters even if the increase turns out to be negligent. What’s more important is that shows like Usagi Drop and this time around Fune wo Amu have finally been able to capture our attention. But is this new trend a consequence of fans getting older and them being able to understand the mindset of a working person, or have we somehow been tricked into watching them, much like it is the case with any other cute girls show?

Shirobako
Overworked adults or moe blobs?

Shirobako is a great example to start off with. The work is being paraded around by fans who are more than willing to point to its use of adult characters and motifs because of its success. I’m thrilled as well that a show like this exists, but I suspect some critics will have difficulty admitting that cute character designs and their innocent demeanor also had something to do with that. Admitting this would supposedly diminish the seriousness of the work, even if we ignore that girls who look like they were in high school occupy the majority of screen time.

What about shows like Fune wo Amu then? The story of it is set in a rundown publishing house, not in high school, while the cast of mostly male characters is not particularly well-suited for ogling. If you’re not a fan of any particular voice actor, which are few, you might start to wonder where the hook is. Is it possible that the show believes in being unique is enough to catch people’s attention? Or perhaps it has bitterly rejected the idea of pandering to any and all established fan groups?

In order to answer that, the first thing to note is that the show shares some similarities with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, in that they both explore what could be described as closing worlds. The world of rakugo has to deal with shrinking audiences and an impoverished talent pool. Overabundance of alternative entertainment compels one of the characters to defy his master for the sake of his art. The world of publishing is facing similar trials. Consider that The Great Passage is scheduled to take ten years to complete. Detached from the main building the dictionary department has continued living their own reality, employing a method that they’ve known has worked for ages. But times have changed. Their publishing model sounds absurd for today’s world, and while the department’s sense of self-importance may come across as endearing, with hindsight it’s hard for us today not to characterize it as naïve or out of touch.

The shortcomings of the dictionary department mirror those of the protagonist. Majime Mitsuya lives in analogue paradise. He sleeps in a room surrounded by books and he doesn’t fancy a cellphone. Instead, he socializes with his elderly landlady, who is a thoroughbred of the Shouwa period. Much like him and his books, his department is incredibly wasteful with space, taking up huge storage rooms when their editors could all just learn to use a computer. The kicker is that we’re talking about paper publishing in the year of 2000, a time in which smart phones and elastic search still didn’t exist. Around that time paper publishing had gone over its peak and fell into decline. Subtle hints of an economic downturn, such as Sasaki being employed as a temporary worker, also help to illustrate that the story has been set in time right before shit hits the fan – before technology changes communication, publishing, and human interaction forever.

Microsoft Excel 97 Anime
Microsoft Excel 97, code-named The Doom Bringer

The overhanging doom instructs the viewer to savor what little peace of mind the editorial staff still enjoys. In a sense the show is lamenting that contemporary life should be more like this. The ecosystem that supported tedious ventures such as frequent dictionary revisions allowed editorial departments to spend attention to detail, but in today’s high-frequency publishing that becomes a pricey commodity. Personally I don’t see the current publishing situation as tragic as some might. When it comes to dictionaries, traditional hardcover editions haven’t been very handy for at least a decade. They are a symbol of prestige and appreciation for language itself, but for their original purpose we rather use online search engines or wiki sites, where new meanings and dank memes are constantly being documented and curated by thousands of people, essentially for free.

That being said I personally work in IT, so my view of the situation may not be shared by many people, especially not by Japanese with an education in humanities or similar. But this also gives me the distance to notice that some people may be more ripe than others for being exploited in terms of entertainment. Consider that Fune wo Amu was serialized in a woman’s lifestyle magazine, and the fact that humanities courses in Japan have been dominated by female students for decades. This year I’ve been following more anime shows aimed at women than ever before. Going through the full list, however, it’s just impossible to ignore that the most popular ones share a certain affinity for history or culture. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Touken Ranbu, Drifters, Natsume Yuujinchou all exploit this sensibility.

Fune wo Amu aims at a certain branch of intellectuals by expressing sorrow for old souls like Majime. More generally though it is trying to appeal to our sense of loss and pressure to evolve in order to keep up with the rest of the world. So while it’s nice that we’re getting more shows with adult characters, I would be hesitant to put them on a pedestal just for this, when insofar these shows have only demonstrated a penchant for escapist storytelling. Knowing that being an otaku and searching for an escape are intrinsically intertwined and diametrically opposed to an image of a responsible adult, I can’t make sense of the distortion that this realization evokes. But I think it’s fair to say that just having more shows prominently featuring adulthood is a good first step to discovering a less childish storytelling model.

The Social Structure of the Anime Industry

How does the anime industry look like if we try putting its abstract social structure into form, without knowing a whole lot about it? I posted a web app this morning that tries to accomplish just that. It’s a bit simpler than the image render below, but it’s got the benefit of interaction. Be patient, loading may take a while!

Anime Creators Network
The Social Network

So to make a long story short, I tried visualizing how staffers from different anime projects are connected to each other. I wanted to see if there is structure to their social network and how that might benefit our understanding of certain communities forming within it. The process involved querying ANN’s Anime Encyclopedia for relevant staff information. All that was needed after that was a bit of grunt work to build the social graph. Each dot in it represents a professional who is credited as having worked on anime. Each line connecting any two dots is to imply that the two professionals represented by them have worked on at least one anime together. In graph theory, the dots and the lines are called vertices and edges. In this graph visualization, dot size increases proportionally to the number of edges that a vertex has. Color intensity of edges tries to convey the level of collaboration between two persons, meaning that if they worked on many shows together, the color of their edge would be more intense.

While it would be nice to know just how much interaction there is between staffers of different companies, I’ve taken the liberty to simplify the model by assuming that everybody who has been credited for a certain anime title knows everybody else credited for that title. In the real world, an in-betweener working for a subcontractor is very unlikely to ever interact with an anime’s main producer, for example. But I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine that it would not be impossible for him to do so if he wanted to. It’s funny to think about these loosely defined connections, because in my country of Slovenia most favors and business transactions are facilitated by knowing a guy who sort of knows the guy who has the thing that we want. In light of that, this graph should be taken as a low-effort approach to solving the problem. For serious researchers I suggest strengthening the dataset with more and better data. The edges especially need more relevant attributes.

Some of the questions may be a bit too hard to answer without looking at the raw data though, so let’s do that right now. Who are the most connected people in the industry anyway, going by the metric that we just described? Who can make favors happen the fastest?

  1. Tsuruoka Yota (sound director): 1448 edges
  2. Sakata Junichi (director): 1426 edges
  3. Mima Masafumi (sound director): 1399 edges
  4. Taniguchi Moriyasu (animation director): 1360 edges
  5. Okazaki Yukio (episode director): 1332 edges
  6. Honda Yasunori (sound director): 1328 edges

To me it’s not all that surprising that the most connected people would be directors, but them being sound directors I thought was interesting nonetheless. Still, there are other connectivity metrics to consider. If we wanted to know how easy it would be for a person to contact anyone from the industry, anyone at all, regardless of the degree of separation, we would need to think of something else. Here, a closeness centrality measure comes in handy. Taking that over node degree measure, the ranking above doesn’t change all that much, but a producer named Okuda Seiji ladders up and passes Taniguchi.

The web app requires some patience to work with. It’s a bit slow due to the fact that the browser needs to draw whopping 11828 vertices and 563177 edges from a 50 MB dataset on a single thread. Do note that the graph omits voice actors and foreign language release staffers. The former mostly due to the fact that my computer’s memory is limited, not to mention all desktop software that I tried had problems visualizing more than a million edges. The latter because I wanted to focus on the Japanese side.

If you’re interested in the code that I’ve written for this project, take a look at the GitHub repo. I used Gephi for visualizing the graph. As always, comments and errata are appreciated.

Movie Review: Kimi No Na Wa

Over the last week I’ve seen a few people shaking heads or simply being overly skeptic of the hype surrounding Shinkai Makoto’s latest feature-length film. I’m usually put off by hype as well, and where I’m currently staying at it was impossible to avoid. Tokyo’s trains and buildings have been plastered with advertisements for it, big and small, Akihabara’s stores had the trailer playing on repeat, and after the Japanese premiere a few days ago many have decided to crown Shinkai as the next Miyazaki Hayao. However, after mustering up the will to buy the damn ticket for tonight’s show, I can confirm that Your Name justifies a lot of what is being voiced about the film. It was that good.

Kimi no Na wa is a story about a boy and a girl, Taki and Mitsuha. The former lives in the megalopolis of Tokyo, the latter in a beautiful rural town near Hida city. Mitsuha in particular is tired of her seemingly boring life and can’t wait to get out of the boonies. Her wish comes true when heavenly circumstances make possible for the boy and the girl to switch places, namely through body swapping. How does the pair deal with this sudden and unexpected change? And what should they do with their new set of extremities? Can they touch them or not?

The plot is laid out to us in the first three minutes of the movie, suggesting there will be no room for pretense. Basically, the viewer is let in on exactly what he’s going to get. Later on the major twist complicates things quite a bit, making the story into a bigger postmodern fantasy than it seems at the offset, but the general direction of where it’s supposed to be going doesn’t change. The first third of the movie is loads of fun. Watching the two getting used to their new bodies and unfamiliar lives produced many a chuckle. I was surprised that they went for boob jokes right from the get-go, still they were all made in good taste. I overheard a conversation among women in the audience who thought Mitsuha’s sister Yotsuha was a cutie, which is something I can wholeheartedly agree with. Her no-funny-business antics especially make her a real treat. Taki’s character is at its best when Mitsuha is occupying his body, otherwise he’s not that much different from your regular Japanese high school boy archetype. I do agree that him occupying Mitsuha’s body is crucial to her charm, and to her development later on. Though I don’t want to make this into a He versus She thing, I felt like her core character design was simply more interesting. I mean, a priestess whose sacred duty is to produce sake by chewing rice with her mouth? I’m in love again.

The following is a spoiler that I cannot avoid if I want to be more constructive, but the biggest gripe I see people having will be the rules and mechanics of communication between overlapping worlds. The main characters are happily switching places with one another, but after a while the need to meet up in person begins pressing on them. Sounds trivial enough, but here’s the problem: the memories of the time they spend in the other person’s body quickly fade away. The feeling, as they describe it, is similar to waking up from an elaborate dream that you can’t fully remember. This limitation makes it hard for them to write down essentials such as their home addresses, or even their names.

Of course there’s a reason for the way things are, but the real problem I see are the mechanics they used to bypass them. By the end they are both grasping for straws to solve the big problem, to the point they could be seen as dabbling in the occult if Shintoistic aesthetics weren’t part of the movie. The solutions they need to reach are all symbolic and sort of just dangling right in front of them. The Miyamizu lineage of female priestesses, their mouth-chewed sake ceremony, the grandmother’s perception of knotting as flow of time, the twilight effect, and the ever-so-potent power of love. The movie leaves Taki no choice but to tunnel-vision on some of these without any real guesswork, which is really the only problem I have with the story’s progression.

Let’s turn to animation. Some cuts, like the animated time lapses of Tokyo’s skylines, were so beautiful you couldn’t help but tear up. Tokyo Station and Yoyogi Park were out on full display, not to mention the gorgeous rural scenery from Mitsuha’s town. Character animation was what you’d expect it to be from a production of this caliber, still the backgrounds and effects work is where I’d say the money is at. I remember getting a bit distracted by the animation switching from hand-drawn to rendered in a few places, however with the amount of detail put into every frame you can write off this complaint as ultimately nitpicky.

The music was okay. It wasn’t bad or anything, but nothing exceptional to write home about either. The RADWIMPS vocal though, for some reason one of the songs is still playing in my head on repeat, and it’s getting super annoying. Maybe because the vocal reminds me of BUMP OF CHICKEN.

Okay, now that we’ve covered basically everything pertaining to the movie itself, there are a couple of related things that I want to talk about. First, I feel like I have to restate a few things that I said recently, namely about anime productions that use real-world locations for modeling their settings. It’s no secret that Shinkai himself uses them quite often, but to tell you the truth it’s a practice that I, as a fan of Japanese animation, have silently been brewing contempt for. Photographs of real locations used not as tools for inspiration, but rather shameless production materials have been trending in the anime production business for the past ten years. The resulting backgrounds tend to look great, the process makes production easier, and the fans love them. Satou Dai, better known for his work on Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell, has in the past expressed negativity toward these types of productions. For the aforementioned reasons he compared them to a drug, one that takes “creative” out of “creative process.”

Over the years I’ve grown to agree with the old man, because to be quite frank some of the recent productions have gone way overboard with promoting tourism. Take Amanchu for example. I haven’t seen the show, I only got to see a few posters, and I can tell you those were enough to turn me off completely. On them, the main character is making poses as if she were a tourist guide who’d love to show me around, rather than a character who cares about what happens in her own life. However, now that I’ve spent a few weeks in Tokyo I got to experience something close to what I imagine local residents get to experience when watching such shows. Seeing the same skyscraper scenery, riding the same trains on the Yamanote Line, and experiencing the same Tokyoite consumerist culture as pictured in the anime I can understand why Japanese fans love it. It’s one thing to look at the backgrounds, think they’re pretty, then visit the locations out of curiosity, but it’s something else entirely if you see the redrawn “Fun! Tokyo!” posters that advertised this very fucking movie to you weeks before you actually saw it! Backgrounds modeled after real places form a deep emotional bond with fans who are living out their everyday in those same places. I still don’t have to like the lazy principals behind the practice, or where it’s taken the anime genre as a whole, but I can understand why it’s so hard to let go of it.

The other thing that I wanted to touch up on was the Shinkai versus Miyazaki debate. I’ve seen every major Shinkai work to date, and one thing that is strikingly obvious from the evolution of his opus is that the guy has slowly warmed up to the idea of more accessible storylines. His first notable work was Voices of a Distant Star, which was a sci-fi flick made for otaku by an otaku. Beyond the Clouds was a beautiful, thought-provoking work, yet in spite of that many people don’t seem to like it. Why? Because overall it’s a clinically boring experience. And, don’t get me wrong, 5cm Per Second was visually stunning and everything, but it was still depressing as all hell.

Then we get to Children Who Chase Lost Voices. I loved this one for its clear and precisely laid out story. The artist took a step back, seeing with far better clarity where he shouldn’t overburden the viewer. His symbolism was universally understood, yet remained intellectually inoffensive. The Garden of Words that followed was short and sweet, to which Shinkai added a touch of provocation. At the same time, he kicked it up a notch with the artistry.

Shinkai directed his best stories when he wasn’t being too selfish with what he wanted to say. Miyazaki was the same in that regard, with Howl’s Moving Castle being his last widely appreciated work. Both of these guys became the talk of the street for their feel-good movies. They both have their own quirky artistic wishes, and it’s hard to assign rank whose are worse, but I think you get the point. Shinkai’s stories have changed for the better. Taki and Mitsuha may have struggled reaching each other through the fabric separating their realities, but at least they didn’t let themselves be thrown into utter despair. In contrast, the flacid protagonist from Byosoku 5cm simply chose to remain miserable. Miyazaki’s self-indulgence produced similar defects. In Howl’s Moving Castle he made the world of magic and wonder accessible to both children and adults, unlike in Ponyo from which he barred basically everyone over the age of nine.

What I’m trying to say is that the director standing in front of us now has finally matured. He doesn’t get hell-bent on portraying the extremes of his pet peeves anymore. Your Name has a story that was a joy to watch, fast-paced with zero downtime and little room for the director wallowing in self-reflection. Aside from the storyboard, the movie’s staff demonstrated a level of technical proficiency which is currently unrivaled in the feature-length film space. Not by Kyoto Animation and not by Studio Ghibli. Skeptics who aren’t prepared to dethrone Miyazaki just yet might be able to argue against the growing chorus of Shinkai supporters, but their struggle is missing the point. Shinkai Makoto is still a relatively young guy who still has time to polish his storytelling and steady his guiding hand, which is why I can’t wait to see what he’ll bring out in the coming decades.

Onegai! Pilgrimage to Lake Kizaki

Every anime fan who has been one longer than one boring summer will remember that very fateful moment when they have taken their red pill that set them tumbling down the rabbit hole of otaku obsessions. What instigated that moment for me was an anisong.

Seasonal anime offerings from summer 2003 weren’t that outstanding, with perhaps Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu? being the rare exception. Even though some might argue there was critical merit to Ikkitousen and Divergence Eve, for today’s standards they are run-of-the-mill shows at best. But it was a boring summer and people had to watch something. Personally, I got fixated on Onegai! Twins, which was your typical summer romance show. It featured a standard self-insertion protagonist and two cute girls. Drama ensues, shipping commences, with a potential ending involving a threesome looming over every fan’s mind. Of course, it was a wet dream. Drama gets resolved, best girl gets the protag’s dick, the loser gets to call him onii-chan. Nothing too crazy. I was more invested in the show because at the time I got an urge to translate some anime. I picked this one partially because a friend was already working on it for a release in a different target language. He helped me get started. But the reason why I even noticed the show was because I fucking fell in love with the opening song.

Second Flight was the brainchild of two very talented composers, Takase Kazuya and Nakazawa Tomoyuki. Takase is also president of I’ve Sound, a music label responsible for many of that day’s popular eroge songs, including theme songs for the Baldr games series. Many eroge sold on hype alone, of which I’ve Sound brought plenty to the table when it was on board. I was impressed porn could have pop songs that rivaled those playing on MTV. Even though they found niche success, the music collective produced minor stars such as Kotoko and Kawada Mami, with whom they released their songs under labels such as Lantis, Rondo Robe, Geneon Entertainment and Warner Bros Japan.

Please! was a media mix project centered mainly around two television anime, Onegai! Teacher, which was released in 2002, and the aforementioned Onegai! Twins. The latter wasn’t exactly a sequel, however main characters of both shows inhabited the same rural setting, with some side characters playing minor roles in both. There was another show released in 2012 titled Ano Natsu de Matteru, which was de facto a spiritual successor to the series. Even though it shared the same summer aesthetic and the same romance-with-a-girl-from-space theme as one of the previous two shows, I was bothered by the lack of a very specific ingredient that would have truly sold it for me.

It was the setting. NatsuMachi’s setting was modeled mostly after real locations from Matsumoto city. Teacher and Twins had a few of those taken there, notably for the school and for the romantic observatory, but the majority of their background scenery was taken from locations around the beautiful lake Kizaki, which lies around 30 kilometers north of Matsumoto. Not to take anything away from Matsumoto, but my nostalgia wasn’t being fueled by it, and so NatsuMachi kind of ruined the whole spiritual successor thing for me.

I’m not sure anymore when I discovered that Kizaki was not just an abstract ideal of summer Japanese beauty but an actual, geographical place. When I did, however, I took a vow to visit if a chance to travel to Japan should arise. I managed to do so a few days ago.

Please! Twins House
The House

The intro above starts with the three main characters noticing a particular house that was being shown on television. As far as I can guess, the exterior of the house is a patchwork of different houses from the same neighborhood, but the model location with a house similar to the one in the anime does exist. The angle from the road above the house, along with the neighbor’s view pretty much confirm it as the real deal.

Please! Twins House Road
View from the road coming toward the House
Please! Twins House Neighbor
View from the neighbor’s drive-in, denied

The nice Kotoko opening starts and we’re treated to the location below. For the longest time I thought this was a mountain road, but as it turns out it’s a walking trail along the lake’s eastern bank. The white fence on the left separates the trail from the lake.

Please! Twins Bank
Walking trail along the lake’s shore

Next up is the park, which is located behind a motorboat rental shop and restaurant. It’s where I purchased a plate of “Marie TWINS” curry and a bowl of “Fushigi-chan” ice cream. The benches, the swings, and the children’s slide are all at the same spot.

Please! Twins Park Benches
The lake is hiding behind the swampy plants
Please! Twins Park Swings
In the cropped-out foreground there was another swing

Facing the House right across the lake is a railroad crossing. I’ve got lucky snapping this one just as the Oito Line was active. I definitely recommend accessing the valley with the train from Itoigawa for the scenic views. Train otaku were aboard as well, which is enough of a confirmation for me that the ride has built itself a reputation.

Please! Twins Line Crossing
Right next to the famous Uminokuchi Station

And finally, the Slide. There was this foreigner right next to me, if you can believe it, that volunteered to have a few awkward poses taken wearing an Onegai! Teacher T-shirt. What a nice and handsome guy he was.

Please! Twins Park Slide
I had to wait some before taking this one, children were playing

Obviously I have more photos of other locations, some even that were specific to Onegai! Teacher, but I’m saving them for a special occasion. You should definitely check out a few photo galleries of other pilgrims who visited before me, like this one. Some of them came more prepared than I did; I was working the field with a mere phone camera. Though let it be known, I visited the same locations. Some of the pictures require breaking trespassing laws. If you decide to go on a pilgrimage, don’t do that. Then again, me loitering around the House while the owners were at home can’t be socially acceptable behavior either.

The series’ locations are great for beginner pilgrims. Do your research, rewatch the shows, take your own screenshots. And for God’s sake don’t look at the maps with Google Street View beforehand; you might as well be spoiling yourself. Take a walk around the lake, it will take you maybe two leisurely hours. You’ll find pretty much every location there is with ease. Local residents are friendly and helpful. They know what we come there for anyway. Visit Herikawa Shop, it truly exists. Stop by all three of the train stations near the lake. You can write down how much you love anime in their log books.

The weather did screw up my schedule to visit Matsumoto, but I’ll live. I don’t like the stay in Japan as much as I thought I would, mostly because of the oven-like heat and me naturally sweating like a pig, but Kizaki alone made the whole visit worth it. Next time I visit it’ll be me taking my future kids camping there, but I’m looking forward to it already.

Comic Market 90 Impressions

It’s my first visit to Japan and so it was natural to attend Comike as well, which ended just a few hours ago. Seeing Tokyo Big Sight for the first time up close in person was a bit overwhelming, I honestly didn’t expect it. But I put off this moment for far too long, I’m glad I finally decided to go.

Everything about the event is true. The crowds are so big it’s hard to imagine, yet human traffic stayed orderly on the premises and all the way along the Rinkai train line. Porn and PG-13 content balance each other out, with the latter having more interesting stuff to look at. I’m sad I didn’t take a proper photo of Arduino and other boards with VOCALOID characters printed on them, it was the coolest shit ever.

Also, Comic Market history records don’t lie – both men and women are equally represented at the event.

The cosplayers, I didn’t pay much attention to them, but people who are into that around here appreciate a very strange aesthetic. Most professional-looking cosplays – the ones every other Japanese cosplayer aspires to reach – were just boring (see here). You had perfect replications of fictional characters on a human body, yet they all looked so jarring. Perhaps they got too close to uncanny valley? Perfect cosplay like that can hardly fall under cuteness aesthetics of Japan. This is something I’ll have to think more about.

More on matters of porn, works like Genshiken and recently SaeKano have helped to create an image of a Japanese otaku who doesn’t judge others for their unorthodox tastes, because hey we all have a kinky fetish or two, right? However, I’ve overheard enough “kimochi waruis” in porn sections of East Hall to say that there is no respect. Japanese otaku just keep their opinions to themselves a bit more than their western counterparts do. But I guess that’s as much as you can expect from society.

Other than that, it’s an event for mostly shopping and small talk with creators, so it’s hard to say it’s otaku paradise. Industry booths had new anime trailers and lots of overpriced merchandise, but you know all that already. The people that make the event, the creators, cosplayers, and volunteers have the most fun, and unless you have a battle plan ready and lots of cash to spend – basically you create a game for yourself – Comike might as well just be an overcrowded shopping mall.

I was moved, impressed and disillusioned by the event all at once. But I’ll probably go again, next time paying more attention to circles of interest prior to the event.

Anime Fandom Has Lost Its Compass

The recent decades of anime and manga outside of Japan are characterized by the struggle to gain overseas popularity and to capture the imagination of western literary criticism. Throughout the years the fandom was put under pressure to develop mechanisms for fending off against the prejudices fueled by past Japanese-American relations and the cultural legacy of cartoons being degraded to children’s entertainment. Indeed, history doesn’t look all that pretty, but ultimately the push against the current bore success.

These days anime and manga have small, but vibrant industries in the western world, providing overseas fans fast and high-quality releases, which are now being streamed on major distribution platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu. Business is booming, as is awareness of the medium. Everybody knows what the word anime means, and being a nerd who watches anime among other nerdy things has become sort of fashionable. Fans don’t have to struggle anymore by scavenging for subtitled copies in small comic book shops. We don’t have to camp obscure IRC channels for digital copies anymore, or send money to strange men living in basements with the hope of them returning a working, subtitled VHS copy. We can simply open a video app instead and have whatever we want to watch running on our mobile screens in seconds.

Being a fan of anime is pretty awesome these days. We are getting all these cool new shows and the library of timeless classics is constantly growing. I mean, who wants to go back to meager offerings of the past and poor accessibility? Obviously nobody. However, I do feel that being a fan in those days had its own charm. It was a hobby that forced you to socialize if you wanted your anime fix, which is quite different from these days. Think about that, you had to put in some effort to be able to watch anime. Sticking to the past isn’t desirable for a plethora of reasons, but I do feel that the hobby lost something in the process of shedding the inconveniences. Now that anime is easier to access than ever before, and all the knowledge a regular anime fan wants is right there on various wiki sites, what point is there besides endless consumption? What challenge is the medium going to throw at us next?

I believe that in the past anime fandom shared a common goal. To boil it down, we wanted to make anime more popular so as to benefit from that, but it was a struggle. Every fan of my generation can recall a personal story how he or she needed to explain herself to a layman why she loved what she loved, why this pursuit was no more childish than indulging in other types of entertainment, or why it wasn’t a waste of time. On the other hand, anime and manga’s worldwide accessibility was for the longest time shouldered by fansubbers and hackers, fans themselves, so to speak. I was part of this collective for a few years, and I can vouch that the amount of time and effort that went into fan translating anime almost felt like a full-time job at times. The persecution complex was also strong in our circles, which might have been due to the anti-piracy narrative that was at its strongest a decade ago, or perhaps due to the tight-knit relationship fans had with anime licensing companies. Despite the risks we knew we were on the right side of history, and so we kept on translating and kept on downloading with even more valor.

Another avenue of appeal stemmed from the fact that these mediums stayed mystified for a very long time, no thanks to fans that weren’t very methodical in pursuing knowledge about them, spreading misinformation and folklore along the way. It has taken several generations of Japanese linguistic studies graduates to become quite decent at translating Japanese media. Academia has also started taking a keen interest in them, carefully examining the state of things and clearing up some of the misconceptions that persisted throughout the decades. One misconception that is still relatively prevalent among fans even to this day is that anime is widely appreciated in Japan. Historical record has been set straight for the most part, facts published on Wikipedia with proper sourcing, and so on. Anime and manga have through proper translation practices and research lost most of their exoticism.

Miyazaki Hayao winning an Oscar for Best Animation was an event that ultimately led to the current situation in the West. Corporations have taken over translation and knowledge creation, and so us fans are left with the job of merely consuming the content. We don’t run anime clubs anymore with the intent of promoting anime and spreading otaku knowledge, because anime are popular enough on their own, while the clubs themselves turned into awkward social hubs with no creative output.

I thought long and hard what the “grand narrative” for western anime fandom was supposed to be this decade, what characterizes this generation apart from popular titles, where the “class struggle” lies in and all of that, but I simply can’t see it. Anime fandom these days is just one large parade toward adulthood, whilst older otaku are left to their own private interests. Even us bloggers used to think we were making a difference by writing passionate posts about anime, evangelizing everything that was interesting about the medium and our fandom. But whenever someone tries to do that these days, I start to wonder for how long have we been preaching to the choir.

Anime has become popular! So what are we supposed to be doing now?