World End Economica episode.03 Review

Hasekura Isuna’s works are always a treat. A golden ratio of dabbling in economics, power structures, and faith. So why has it taken me three years after the translation came out to have finally read it? Two words: Sekai Project. You can read my old blogs regarding that if you want. I’m simply glad that my feelings on the matter have finally settled down. Plus I had actual reasons to delve into the next Hasekura work. Real life reasons, such as thinking about buying an apartment. Every so often, friends and pety conformists alike send me a kind reminder to slowly start thinking about these things. The plan would be to find a nice apartment and commit to an expensive, decade-long loan to pay it off, just like every other family upstart does it. But I ask myself, would this be the correct decision to take at this point in time, given that a recession is likely just around the corner? Other questions pop up as well, like how much responsibility do I have to bear for other people’s poor attitudes towards money? And, just how selfish can I be in life in general?

I didn’t expect this episode of World End Economica to give me answers to any of my questions, but I did expect reading Hasekura to put me in the right frame of mind for making big financial decisions. I’m happy to report that it did just that.

An ode to optimism
An ode to optimism

Haru was born on the Lunar surface, and initially felt very little attachment to the tribulations of the first wave of immigrants from Earth, his parents included. His unchained spirit helped him grow as an investor, but when he suffered a crippling loss against Mr Barton, the ruthless investor, he became a burden to the community that first came to rely on his expertise and capital. But, it was wrong of him to think of himself as their burden. You give some, you get some – that’s simply how communities work.

Real estate had been a major theme in previous episodes as well. The third episode starts off by introducing us to a housing project which Haru and the standing President of the Lunar society, Mr Gazzanica, have developed to further their goals. The fate of this project quickly becomes dependent on market movements. As Haru discovers, the commodities market may be experiencing a bubble, driven by the popular frenzy over clever financial instruments like Asset-Backed Securities. Throw in a hoard of greedy debt financiers, and the market becomes ripe for a downturn. While most bought into Lunar real estate and the accompanying financial instruments with blind optimism, a handful of pessimistic short-sellers saw the eventual market decline as an opportunity for unimaginable profits. Our protagonist was of course one to take advantage of the situation, his decisions ultimately leading to him being able to reconnect with his long lost love.

When it comes to the story, I want to be critical of two aspects. First off, Hagana’s state of mind.

After the first episode, while we had some basis to suspect Hagana was working for Barton, we knew she couldn’t have been in an enviable situation. We learn that the securities market debacle was being deliberately amplified by Hagana’s own hand in the market and her influence over leading financial institutions. The short story is that her employer, the largest corporation in existence, had trusted her brilliance and over-invested into toxic assets. What they weren’t privy to though was that Hagana wanted to see the world burn.

As reckless as it sounds, I absolutely sympathized with her situation. Eight years of resentment and loneliness can conceivably drive a person to such destructive behavior. That being said, given the terrible state of mind that she was in, I found it incredulous how swiftly Haru had reconciled with her. Haru may have convinced me with his solution to the predicament in which the market found itself, but when it comes to fixing people, I don’t think it should be too hard to imagine that even if you manage to find the right words for a person contemplating self-harm, they wouldn’t become well again just like that. We’re talking about destructive brain chemistry being at work long-term, after all.

For whatever reason, the Japanese media that I follow almost always seem to dumb down any discussions of mental illness. Hasekura’s work is just another example of that, one from a long series of shoddy portrayals of dealing with mental illnesses. Which is why I believe poor attitudes toward mental health are rampant in Japanese culture in general. A counterpoint to this observation in this particular case might be that Hasekura wanted to write more on the matter, he just kind of lost interest in Hagana midway. I suspect that Hasekura initially planned to spend more time developing the chapter in which Haru and Hagana reunite. Remember, the room Hagana was staying in had the rent paid for three months in advance. Using that time frame for Hagana’s non-instant recovery might have lead to a more convincing portrayal of her inner struggles. Instead we got a few choice words, a hug, and that was the end of her years long turmoil.

The second thing to be critical of is the sci-fi aspect.

In the first episode, the winning strategy developed by Haru, Hagana and Serrault was a market sentiment analysis tool. Basically, it predicted market sentiment captured from various communication channels. As I see it, sentiment analysis must have been an incredible buzz word in our world at the time of the release of the first episode. The year was 2011, social networks everywhere had been experiencing incredible growth, and with them a growing appetite to apply cool new natural language processing methods to their data streams. To more tech-savvy investors, I suspect that sentiment analysis must have looked like the holy grail. In reality today, sentiment analysis produces but a handful of useful market indices that get added to a large ensemble of existing indices. I liked that Hasekura used an underdeveloped technology from the real world and fleshed out its potential in fiction. For the time when the first episode was published, that choice put the novel solidly in the genre of hard sci-fi.

Chris’ copula, however, didn’t seem that impressive to me. From what I read of it on Wikipedia it is a pretty straight-forward method. On the other hand, Hagana had expensive market simulations running in off-site computer clusters. She likened her work to weather simulations, which sounds cool and all, but for my taste the concept was poorly explored. The computer nerds of the world could only interpret her explanation as “I use big computer, I smart oracle.” In the case of sentiment analysis, I was able to imagine how one would go about solving the problem in the real world, because there was precedent for the solution, but a “weather simulator” just seems like a lazy substitute for a future technology that could have been explored far more intricately if given proper conditions and time.

Nevertheless, as far as the atmosphere goes,  the third episode was a fantastic financial thriller, perhaps the best out of the three episodes in that regard. Much of the beginning focused on Haru’s fears of slowing down, of growing old, of getting grounded and bogged down by all the commitments and responsibilities that he had toward his family and his home, the Lunar surface.

In the latter part, however, another theme gradually fleshes itself out. This read is about the benefits of having an optimistic outlook on life. After learning of the mess Hagana had cooked up, there was no solid, rational reason for anyone, especially Haru to remain on the Lunar surface and risk going down with the ship, as he chose to do. Smart people would try to cut their losses and move on, he feared. Even Barton, Mr rationality incarnate, was about to board the orbital elevator. Haru had nothing but a hunch that the people who had invested their everything into the Lunar surface also wanted the Lunar surface to succeed – because it was a special case. Haru’s proposal hinged on the premise that investors would ignore all rational thought and let themselves lose to their optimism bias. Biases are dangerous, yet his argument made sense, so much so that in the end Barton agreed to his scheme.

Hagana had a far less optimistic perspective to Haru’s. She didn’t need a lecture to know that the world was a horrible, depressing place. She not only knew that a black swan event was on schedule, she helped create it herself. And so we arrive to the conclusion that pessimism can be just as deadly as blind optimism. The message is fine, I like it. All the same, I’d prefer if the Japanese eventually stop reducing the mental illnesses they write about. Hagana wasn’t being pessimistic, she was in the middle of an episode. Love may be the strongest unrestricted spell in existence, but it surely comes off as lazy writing when used to lighten up heavy character development.


Mirai no Mirai – The Good Parts

I had the privilege of watching Hosoda Mamoru’s Mirai at this year’s Animateka. I gave it a shot simply because the movie has yet to come out in regular distribution. Verdict? It didn’t betray my expectations, which were at the low end of the spectrum after watching the trailer. Today, we will not be discussing its gorgeous animation and other capable aspects of it. Unfortunately, all of those are overshadowed by the fact that Mirai is not a very enjoyable movie.

The bad things can mostly be attributed to the protagonist, Kun-chan. A four year old who is discovering the world around him while being as loud and as annoying as a small child can possibly be. Suffice to say, if it was meant as #ChildFree propaganda, it did the damage it was looking to do, however I suspect that that’s not the case. While this show is primarily meant for children, I would argue it is equally trying to exploit the parent. Most of the scenes remind us adults that despite becoming one with our life partners and having children who become centers of our universe, parents are still individuals with their own desires and limits. I cannot speak for the parents of the world, but for me this kind of emotional manipulation is not enough. I don’t go to the movies to feel sorry for myself, which is why for me this was strike number two.

So is there anything relevant to discuss? This is where the spoiler warning pops up.

The movie follows Kun’s adventures traveling through time and meeting his parents and his predecessors with the help of a magical tree growing in his courtyard. In one scene Kun gets transported to an unmanned train station in the middle of nowhere, where he meets a gloomy young guy whose identity is hard to pin down at first, but from the way he talks to Kun it’s heavily implied that he was supposed to be Kun from the future. In an unfiltered, merciless fashion, the guy proceeds to criticize the kid by pointing out his instances of childish behavior. The point of this past vs. future juxtaposition is that if Kun-chan, who is a demonstrably terrible little psychopath, doesn’t change his ways he will end up like the person right in front of him. His unpleasant mannerisms and the scenery of nowhere paint Future Kun as a loner. Blaming himself for becoming a prick, he is determined to get Kun-chan to board the next train to Tokyo, as if this was his last chance to reform. Kun boards the train as he is told.

There are other interesting bits to point out here. Recognized from the shot of its name board, the Isogo train station has recently overturned the negative daily passenger trend into a positive one. The low point was in 2007 when on average only 19,047 people used it. This number might not seem that small, as it is still a train station in Yokohama, however do note that Isogo’s background art does not visually match the station in the real world. For the animated version of Isogo, Hosoda copy-pasted the scenery from the Ecchuu-Nakamura train station from Toyama, which is located on the local Chihou Railway line. The latter reflects the scene from the movie far more accurately.

During Kun’s ride to central Tokyo, the train stations on the Yamanote line all seem a little too big to be real. It’s the future, of course! As Kun gets off the train, we are treated to a visionary scene of future Tokyo, in which the most striking novelty is the diverse palette of commuters – yellow, white, brown, and black – all equally present. Tokyo Station gives off the vibe of an international airport, with travel instructions written not just in standard Japanese and English but in a variety of other languages as well. Even though Tokyo these days has the biggest share of foreigners than most other places in Japan, racially it’s still very homogeneous, with the share of foreign residents floating around 3 percent. Interpreting the scene as future Japan becoming racially balanced cannot be dismissed. Hosoda sees or wishes Tokyo to become a racially mixed supercity, which might just be par for the course given the rapid decline of Japan’s population and the long-term need to import outside labor to support the elderly.

In the version of the multiverse in which Kun fails as a human, places like Nakamura are dying with no hope in sight. However, the supercity of Tokyo to which Kun hesitantly decides to go has a bright future ahead of it. A future that’s not racially homogeneous. My friends, if that is not a political statement, I am not sure what is.

Under normal circumstances I would not be turned off by this idea, but the reason Kun-chan quite literally goes on board is not due to his ideological reasoning. Kun-chan boards the train to Tokyo because his future self is quite desperately urging him to go. While getting ushered to the train, young Kun was scared and unsure. Things get uglier in Tokyo where he gets lost. He queues up to a Lost and Found desk where he is received by a scary-looking service robot. In order to help him, the AI asks Kun a couple of questions about his parents, and after failing to answer all of them, since he is just a kid, the robot demands to know his parents’ real names. The entire scene was super freaky. I can just imagine watching this as a tiny kid and being terrified by the idea of never returning home again just because I couldn’t remember the names of my mom and dad.

In the end, he remembers the name of his baby sister. The lesson needed to be learned was to treat people as individuals, giving them the respect for performing the societal and familial roles that they do. But this is still a tall order to ask from a four year old. The robot threatened the little dude with a scary-ass looking train, whose car doors were about to suck him up and take him to the Land of All Alone if he didn’t answer.

For those that haven’t watched the movie, Kun doesn’t exactly get along with his sister Mirai, given that she’s the new baby in the house. The entire premise of the movie is based on the fact that Kun-chan cannot keep his parents all to himself anymore. He throws tantrum after tantrum, sometimes putting Mirai at the risk of getting hurt. By the end of the movie, Kun learns to treat his parents and his sister better, however this was hardly a result of his parents doing their job right. He didn’t have a change of heart because he, at the age of four, had the mental capacity to realize that he was a shitty little dirt eater. No, he caved under pressure. He essentially made a practical decision to prefer his less than ideal situation at home over being sent to The Land of All Alone. Already at age four, Kun got to experience how power works against the individual.

“Let’s get along” is practically Japan’s national slogan. The last time I saw it in a movie it was a couple of months ago when I watched Koe no Katachi. It’s a story about a group of teenagers that basically don’t like each other but force themselves to get along anyway, just because that is what you are supposed to do. I like Japan, but some aspects of how Japanese society ought to function look pretty messed up. Noticing this mantra repeat in two watches so close together felt jarring. That being said, I don’t believe that Hosoda made an animated case study of individuality with Mirai, as his message just wasn’t very consistent.

Finally, this movie doesn’t deserve the praise it got in places like Rotten Tomatoes. Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo and Summer Wars carried Hosoda through his furry phase, but for me right now, he is kind of a mixed bag. In the feature-length film space he has to compete with guys like Shinkai Makoto, who is currently peaking. Every flop he produces now makes Hosoda look less and less relevant.

Anime is for EVERYONE

The statement in the title should not be surprising. If it is, there is something wrong with you.

But of course, I bring up this topic because the mentioned statement has a very specific context. And this context disgusts me. Not the LGBTQ+ hate, not the edge lords. Everything about this politicization of anime disgusts me. Politics isn’t always completely avoidable, but I think the recent drama on Twitter is indicative that everybody is eager to make the anime fandom political in nature. Or maybe it’s just a Twitter thing, which is why I truly feel “exposure exhaustion” (PauseAndSelect) to political messages will be the social network’s downfall.

In the past, discussion forums frequently banned political discussion. The practical dimension of this decision was probably due to the forum moderators’ unwillingness to spend too much time putting out nonsensical fires. But since forum to forum did it almost religiously without real explanation as to why that was leads me to believe a type of knowledge transfer was involved. After all, the internet was built mainly by people that didn’t like dealing with other people: scientists and unsocial, antisocial, and military types. I will go out on a limb here and extend what Azuma Hiroki said about mid 80’s Japanese otaku, that the internet, and by extension the early online anime community was run by people that were expressly apolitical. Which is another form of politics, but please spare me the lecture on this one.

Somebody Tweeted this out …

… and got massively misunderstood. Even 15 years ago when I started as a fan, honestly we all knew that a bunch of weirdos watch anime, so it was no surprise to hear “gay people” and other types, which are these days roughly grouped under the LGBTQ+ tag, were present in the hobby. Nobody cared about them. We wanted to watch and discuss anime, with everybody. That was about it.

But perhaps you believe politics is inseparable from social interaction and thusly fandom. Perhaps the same goes for anime and their creators. But there’s a reason some of us watch anime and despise these “discussions”, which I will dare say aren’t really discussions but rather propaganda with fascist elements, from both sides.

I want anime and related Japanese media and genres to remain bastions of relatively large freedoms of expression. Everytime Western politics got involved something bad happened to this ecosystem. The politicization of fandom eventually transfers to the politicization of anime creation. Just look at Hollywood. Anime aren’t exactly free of politics, but they are much better at this than most content available in English that’s out there. I can’t exactly say “take this shit elsewhere” – I want to, but it’s not a realistic wish – because the people and companies enjoying these types of discussions are simply too eager to care. They want the anime fandom to fit their worldview, their rights, their selfish desires. In terms of value judgements, they are the same to me. They are slowly changing a fandom that used to be apolitical, but is now so steep in politics that distribution companies tweet this shit out on their official Twitter accounts. Does Japan do that? They do, and after the shitstorm they delete the Tweets and apologize. Because they know being apolitical is sometimes good for business. Because being apolitical assures that the widest possible group of people (EVERYONE) will check out their offerings and spend money. Because an apolitical ecosystem these days would be an oasis in this world of radical politicization of everything.

A practical advice for politically exhausted people like me is something I advised other people suffering from fandom burnout: Drop the fandom bullshit. Focus on actually watching anime. It would do us all good to remind ourselves that anime fandom is its own separate thing aside from anime. Twitter has run out of its course, at least for me. Even the people that I follow and think are cool guys for the work they contribute to this hobby I have to mute sometimes, because their political signalling is too distracting or too heavy-handed and makes me want to argue with them. I’m sure somebody thinks the same of my tweets. So to be the change that I want to see in this world, I guess it’s time for big changes to my communication.

Because anime is for everyone, always has been. It’s also for asocial pricks like myself that sometimes care more for Japanese cartoons than the wellbeing of their fellow human beings.

Okabe and Localism

A couple of weeks ago I found the time to play through the two main paths of Steins;Gate 0. My contentions regarding time travel logic and artificial intelligence aside, it’s a good game. It follows the protagonist of the original Steins;Gate, but one with a far more darkened hue. Having lost the will to fight, Okabe chooses the beta world line to shorten his losses and save his childhood friend, leaving his would-be lover to die. Okabe faces a war with his own biased mind, to take back control of it and to save his everyday.

At the beginning of the story, Okabe wants to convince himself that his Future Gadget Lab didn’t matter. Filled with grief and self-blame, he starts visiting it far less frequently, which makes his friends and hopefuls worry. This isn’t the alpha world line anymore, SERN doesn’t care about him or his friends, but the funny thing is that World War III is still on schedule. What makes Okabe move again is the realization that his everyday has been lost, even before WW3 hits Tokyo and his friends die one by one.

The Everyday with the capital E. There are many different parties involved in this conflict, but the most interesting and most relevant to draw parallels with Okabe is Russia. In the beta, they are the first party to experiment with time travel. Their plan was to manipulate time to restore the glory days of USSR, which as you may recall had been in collapse throughout the 1980s and has formally dissolved in 1991. Most of my readers these days are probably millennials with no real recollection of the 90s, but to be honest, that’s not that far back. For Mother Russia, the everyday that they wanted to save was the haze of year-round Lenin parades, successes in space exploration and foreign policy matters, low unemployment rates, and a union of nations the likes of which the newly-born European Union could hide in shame from. As hazy as these memories were for the Russian actors, with the right manipulations in place they could become reality again.

But why start changing things in the 1980s? Why not plunge back to the time of the Manhattan Project and steal American nuclear technology? Why not jump even further back? I’m confident that there are earlier points in time at which Russia’s time travelers could ensure the supremacy of the Federation for centuries to come, but I think there’s a very real answer as to why this didn’t happen. People actually like living in the present. They don’t want to drastically alter their everyday, unless what they are living is complete Hell. They like their family and friends, they like their neighbors, they like their surroundings. The idea of changing the past to such a degree that the time traveller wouldn’t be able to personally benefit doesn’t sound very appealing, not even to patriots. With manipulations on the world branch level, there’s a good chance that he wouldn’t have been born in the first place.

To Okabe, saving the world was of secondary meaning. Only when he realized that doing so is a necessity to save his everyday, and that there is no escaping the bad end, did he start moving again. Both Russia and Okabe Rintaro are bound by their subjective experience of the world. Come to think of it, most contemporary time travel stories fiddle with events inside a very narrow time interval. A common pattern: The antagonist did something bad in the past, the protagonists go back to revert it. OK, but why not eliminate the conditions for which bad shit happens in general?

Another thing must be made clear. The world will see the birth of another super genius like Makise Kurisu. That may not be the case in the immediate future, but the very fact that time travel is possible in their world will almost surely bring about new struggles for the generations to come, to keep the technology out of the hands of ambitious nations. In other words, by prioritizing the importance of his everyday, Okabe revealed himself as one self-serving motherfucker. The entirety of Steins;Gate 0 is an exercise in exploring which limited option is best for him.

As the parliamentary elections in Slovenia draw closer, this notion of locality is at the forefront of every debate. Should we support migrants or should we better support our own struggling nationals? Should we look to strengthen our relationship with the core EU states, or do we go to Orban and Visegrad instead? Do we want to build an inclusive superstate without borders, or are we skeptical of the EU’s longterm success with its current power politics?

I believe there is a Steins;Gate, a middle road somewhere in between the extremes. Having lived through the effects of the economic policies following the recent global financial crisis however, it’s hard for me to put aside all of the very personal resentments that have accumulated, regarding bad policies. Intuitively, I know that a borderless world with long-lasting peace should be something to strive for, however an implicit defense of a global configuration under which this becomes impossible has me backing the localists, for now.

I love my girlfriend, I love my family, I love my friends, I like my coworkers, regardless of the country they come from. What matters is that these people constitute my everyday, which I’ve put a lot of effort into constructing. If you ask me about Yemen, on a fundamental level I don’t care about Yemen. I hear about Yemen, I sympathize with the Yemenis, but really, what can I do about their situation? What can virtually any European nation do about the crisis there? For a Slovenian national, to pull for Yemen’s future is wasted, inefficient effort at best.

But I do think I can contribute to improvements in the local far more effectively. I can help my family and friends in a number of ways, I can clean up my neighborhood, I can join a protest against dumb totalitarian policies, and I can become a statesman, or vote for a statesman that will aim to reduce corruption. I can help prevent the country from experiencing the same fate as Yemen is.

All of this in the hopes of ensuring that my everyday continues. On this point, regardless of your standing on the political spectrum, we’re probably not all that different.

The Entrepreneurial Fan

I once had this friend who was very good at merging his hobbies with what was required of him. He earned his school credits working on his anime news and community website. He got all of us writing jobs for a media-related trade publication, where we could write basically anything anime related. Yet by the end of his school, he was desperate to somehow turn his anime related projects into businesses. When his hopes had finally been dashed, he decided to scrap anime altogether. Watching anime and being engaged with the community was an opportunity cost for him. After that, he entered society and never looked back.

This anecdote is probably a more extreme case of what happens when fans run out of currency, be that reputation, money, or time. If you are a part of an anime community, reputation matters, however it’s not as crucial for watching anime as is lacking the other two. Anime related hobbies are extremely expensive, be them money-wise or time-wise. I’m putting in the following touches for this blog entry at three o’clock in the morning, which will definitely cost me health, job performance, and time in tomorrow’s afternoon. You can also estimate the cost of anime on your life. But we always come up with ways to justify how anime enriches our lives and why they are worth watching, don’t we? However, in more extreme situations, we might be surprised to learn that anime won’t fit the equation no matter what.

To give a large-scale example, I firmly believe that the ongoing global financial crisis killed off a genuine sense of an anime community in my country, which only became apparent as the years went by. The financial stability before the crisis enabled many kids, even kids from families that weren’t that well off, to be able to devote substantial amounts of money, but more importantly time to their hobbies. This historical pattern is common to when the Japanese otaku began emerging in the 1970s. Japan’s growing interest in animation and doujinshi, along with enthusiasm for sci-fi and technology, backed with a booming economy, produced the perfect storm and jump-started the anime industry as we know it today. Similarly, for the time that our local anime communities were growing, it was so because we were putting a lot of effort into them. We had fanzines, web portals, an anime database with localized descriptions, and a variety of events to attend. While community-making these days in general is usually a for-profit venture, for us spreading appreciation for anime and attracting like-minded folks was a goal in itself. Very few individuals attempted to milk what had been built, and for good reason. I remember dismissing their plans because the local market was at the time too small and underdeveloped for anything like that. Suffice to say, I lost a friend.

Fast-forward ten years, we are still feeling the effects of the financial downturn. Kids are growing up to be responsible adults, they watch anime as a pastime. They don’t have the time to live out their healthiest years in front of a screen. Watching a foreign animation product that won’t net them anything is a waste, not to mention doing anything fan-related that isn’t watching. Unsurprisingly, over here the only fan activity that is still publicly visible is organizing anime conventions. It goes without saying, even in Slovenia conventions have merchants selling anime goods, we have artists running stalls, and of course cosplay. The artist alleys have taken on a character similar to that of their Japanese, German, and American counterparts, meaning that the local artist alley is not so much an art space as it is a marketplace. The artists are putting up their stalls to promote their products and services, whether it is for financial profit or for social capital.

As a disclaimer I have to say that I am not trying to put value judgments on this mode of prosumption, however, the cynic in me sees these leanings toward more profitable / less costly fan activities as a sign of tough times being trodden. Organizing conventions, creating art pieces, or doing cosplay might not immediately trigger what my line of thinking is here, but it’s important to contrast their frequency, in the public fan space, against other, less profitable activities. For example, writing anime reviews used to be a staple of our fandom and treated as a sign to the world that even fans in a two-million tiny country of Slovenia watch anime. I haven’t read an anime review or an analysis piece in Slovene in years now, except in a magazine which somebody is selling copies of.

English-speaking Anitubers rub me the wrong way the same as the fandom situation at home. It doesn’t matter if these creators are earning ad revenue off YouTube, or that they are finding Patrons to finance their efforts, to me the notion that they have to justify their prosumer activity with some sort of personal gain is quite interesting. Even those that don’t manage to make a single penny can use their YouTube channel as a springboard for future projects. PauseAndSelect, who is the only Anituber whose videos I cherish, would likely not be doing YouTube if not for the support he receives.

OK, but now that I made you think about your favorite YouTuber you get defensive and ask: “What’s the big deal if they make money doing what they love? Isn’t that great?” A long time ago I took a stab at doing anime blogging for a living, and aside from not having the talent nor the technical skills to pull it off, if you want to grow as an anime blogger there are so many things to sacrifice around your desired delivery in order to fit the expected, profitable format. I imagine it’s similar with YouTube. In the last year there have been numerous occasions at which I wanted to make and upload a video myself. Even though I have the equipment and the technical (and possibly the writing) skills to do so, I just couldn’t bring myself to it, because the format demands so many compromises. I admire PauseAndSelect for sacrificing very little in comparison to his competitors, but even he had to make some. For example, he needs to maintain a Twitter presence. He dug himself into a hole of stewarding a Discord community. He needs to interact with his Patrons. Sometimes he finds himself sifting through dumb opinions from his fans who haven’t read Nick Mansfield’s Subjectivity, plus it’s twice as hard not to call people idiots when you’re a PhD student. He also needs to play the PR game, to make himself look like a person his followers can relate to. In other words, he needs to do all these different things because the symbolic order is a bitch, which has nothing to do with his creative output. Doing these extra things, which is required of any entrepreneurial venture, is second nature to some, but it sure isn’t something that I’m comfortable doing.

Profitability of fandom engagement is what I would like to continue discussing. My own theory is that some fans carry the burden of constantly seeing a financial or a temporal constraint on practicing the hobby, and so they don’t enjoy it like a regular fan does. Instead of investing their money into plastic toys or FGO, they feel like they need to make the best of their time by picking the more profitable activity. Why waste your time posting pseudonymously on Reddit when you can make a YouTube video and increase your status as a community member? Why not stream your weeb games on Twitch and gain a following? I’d say that a five-dollar donation is better than a bucket of downvotes. In short, the entrepreneurial fans cannot allow themselves to become regular fans. They cannot justify their time doing so, or they cannot afford it.

This post isn’t meant as an ode to entrepreneurs, I actually feel sorry for them. My country’s fandom has seen better days, and I say that despite conventions increasing their attendance thirty-fold in the last 8 years. However, I do believe that it’s still much cheaper for a Slovenian fan to go to a convention and spend a few hundred bucks there than to spend a couple of hours every day being an active member of an online community. The math checks out for him.

Sekai Project and NekoNyan

Two years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts and angry Reddit replies on the topic of Sekai Project’s handling of World End Economica. It’s 2018 now, and I can’t believe the project still hasn’t wrapped. All three episodes have, finally, been translated, but the delivery of ports and physical goods has been put on the backburner, as expected.

If you ask me today whether I got my money’s worth, even though most of the pledge rewards haven’t been fulfilled, I would probably say yes. Due to Sekai Project’s mishaps and mishandlings, I got to shit on the company for months, the CEO got his share of stress-related consequences due to a vocal part of the community and 4chan trolls getting angry. But then I come to the conclusion that this way of rationalizing is just a defense mechanism. In reality, I got swindled. A number of backers who paid tons of money for iOS/Vita port tiers got shafted beyond compare.

A company that at the offset looked like a positive force for Japanese visual novel localization turned into a huge aberration just to keep the cash afloat, lost sight of that vision, and now it seems like it’s in its twilight years. They released, what, two games in 2017? オワタ.

So what the fuck has Sekai Project been up to this year? My guess is phasing out “Sekai Project” and rebranding and restructuring under NekoNyan. Supposedly a new localization company that’s unhappy with how things stand among English localizers. “NekoNyan” comes from the name of a community blog titled Neko Nyan Liberation that dovac hosted back in 2007-2008. I know, because I wrote a couple of articles on it. It’s the same nomenclature as in the case of DenpaSoft – Sekai’s founders had a fascination with denpa music and characters, and even lurked in a private IRC channel named #denpa. Reading Fuwanovel’s announcement on the matter, it seems to me like the transition team decided to go about mending bridges with the community by recruiting a couple of community members to make them the face of the new brand, while they do stuff on the backend.

Of course there’s always a chance that I’m wrong, but in this case I choose not to believe in coincidences. If true, what this means for World End Economica’s backers is that our chances of ever seeing physical rewards have shrunk close to zero. Maybe we get refunded, maybe we don’t. At this point I really don’t care, except that it tainted my experience of a great Hasekura work, and that’s the biggest swindle of them all.

I think I’m done with visual novels. The stories which I’ve read and the porn that I’ve fapped to over the years have shaped my personality, and steered my life through a passage that, in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t gone through. Still I’m happy with who I am, and I thank them for that. I didn’t think I would ever be so disappointed to end things as loudly as this. I had put WEE on ignore for the past year, because my complaints seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. Whatever. I just hope I will one day have the heart to play through the Windows (ugh) version of the third episode.

I Can’t Seem to Find a Fate/Extra Fansub that I Can Trust and It’s All Crunchyroll’s Fault

So here I am, with a bit of time on my hands. Seeing that Reddit had a Fate/Extra thread up, I thought it was time to download it from HorribleSubs. Unfortunately, HorribleSubs didn’t have it, meaning Crunchyroll didn’t release it yet. Glancing over the remainder of the fansubbed versions listed on Nyaa, I realized that I don’t know any of the groups, except Fuyu, whom I don’t exactly trust since they tend to release a lot of corrected versions. Judging from the comments, one other version seemed like it was machine-translated. So I thought, hey, maybe someone has done a comparison of these releases, like UltraCarl had been doing eons ago. Just for the heck of it, I google UltraCarl and discover that he is currently working in the anime industry. Fuck.

I realized that I can’t trust any of the fansubs available without spoiling my watching experience. This is far from ideal. At the peak of the fansub era, we had multiple fansub groups releasing decent English translations in a timely manner. I used to dislike this oversubbing phenomenon, because that meant low-profile shows like Hyouge Mono had to be translated from Chinese subs. Still, those were far better times simply because you could trust groups with a reputation to do a decent job. These days, fansubs have drastically declined in both quality and speed. I follow HorribleSubs for a reason, because they repost official translations from Crunchyroll and other distributors, who do a better job overall than fan translators in any era could.

But, what if one day Crunchyroll disappears? What if anime’s popularity in the west suddenly came to a sharp decline, bankrupting anime companies left and right, leaving fans with no official sources for their fix? Diehard fans are not prepared for such a turn of events, and ultimately our communities would have less enthusiastic hands to dedicate their time to the hobby. The terminal decline of the fansub community, which was brought on by less demand for fansub products, came with several downsides: apart from the community becoming a less vibrant fan space, the knowledge of fansub know-how has been degraded and the rate of tools development has slowed down. In 2005 we were talking about implementing automatic subtitle timing, back when it was still a pipe dream. In the last few years there has been substantial progress made on speech recognition, but is anybody doing automatic subtitles aside from Google? As someone who works with machine learning algorithms daily, this is not a pipe dream anymore, even for hobbyists.

So what the fuck happened? We let Crunchyroll run this subtitling business, thinking they do a good enough job, for too long. The proactive fan has moved on to do other things related to anime, like making YouTube videos, and spamming Twitch chat with DoritosChip. We don’t concern ourselves with the infrastructure anymore, we have entrusted Taiwanese subtitle sweatshops with those menial tasks. Still, the aforementioned trust issues will always be present when we are spoiled rotten by legal options and out of touch with the hardships of translation.

Fansubbers past and present are also to blame. They drained all the fun out of fansub creation, too focused on appearing more professional, and too focused on ad revenue and donations. I fondly remember working on One Piece fan translations with Kaizoku-Fansubs, it was an amazing ensemble of characters. One of the Kaizoku guys coded an impressive fork of VirtualDub, which was able to time subs by keyframes – a rarity before Sabbu and Aegisub came along. While he was working on fansubs as a hobby, he was also running his own Hollywood-based animation company. Another created an impressive list of subtitle character attack effects, KF’s signature style, which made it clear that this was a fan product, and that those fans had fun doing it. That guy works for Google now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bring back the dead, but I am trying to illustrate the level of talent that used to contribute to improving the subtitling field. And as far as I’m aware, the official subtitling industry still uses Aegisub for most of typesetting work, which was designed and coded years ago by a team of primarily anime DVD rippers.

If legal options one day disappear, it’s going to take a long time to reestablish what subtitling standards we once knew. Even if they never do, the trust in fansub brands just isn’t there for all the corner cases that fansubbers have to cover. The general disinterest in translation does just that.