Still Here

I figured I should write at least one update this year, so today I’m going to talk about reaching my mid thirties as an anime fan.

Long ago, there was an incident that made me think about age discrimination in the anime fandom, and what that meant for me as I was departing my teens: a 43-year-old wanted to attend an anime meetup at a library, but staff denied him because he wasn’t a teen. While my gut reaction was to think the guy should have quietly excused himself, it left me wondering what growing old means for the fan experience.

Most of my contemporaries didn’t think much about the topic, but it was an an existential question for me back when I was left inside my bubble filled with anime and not much else.

How much has my everyday changed, really? Even though the mediums of engagement differ, my anime experience is largely the same: watch some shows, communicate, and prosume. I try to keep up with weekly anime shows, I co-host a podcast with friends who are also still big on anime. I keep up with the news, and every so often I write this blog. As the years went on, I have been discovering new ways to engage the hobby, so it never became boring for me. Most importantly, I never stopped thinking about anime.

But I do feel that there are differences in being engaged as a teen, as a young adult, or as a wizard. The number of fans which I can gain valuable insights from has been on a downward trend. This has largely to do with the fact that as the years go by most fans find other priorities and interests to occupy their time with. Whenever I’m interacting with opinionated fans these days, they tend to be younger holding flawed argumentation. They also love to talk in hyperbole because social media is a horrible thing.

Back in the day I could always find fans to compete with in either knowledge or output. Sadly, you can’t find many people like that any more. As such, few in recent memory have challenged my views or opened up new perspectives with regards to the hobby. The people that do I worship and cherish as God’s gift to mankind.

Apart from the fans, I have come to terms with the fact that I had been born too far away from Japan to satisfy my passion for the subject. As a teen I had a lot of plans to change that. I wanted to study the Japanese language and translate anime to my locale. I fantasized about living the otaku dream in Japan. As a young adult I have spent most of my resources to experience that dream right here in Slovenia. I was wrong.

First of all, Japan as a country overall kind of sucks. I have visited it twice as a tourist and I’m eager to return – as a tourist – but it’s definitely not a place that shares my values, nor do I want to live in a country that’s headed toward serious economic and societal decline.

From my trips to Japan the photos I’m mostly fond of picture exposed concrete, and rusty rooftops, and shattered patios belonging to failed hotels. Have you ever visited the famous Hakone-Yuumoto hot spring resort town? If you fancy displays of urban decay, the scenery becomes more and more indulgent as you go up and along the stream of Sukumo river, which serves as an ugly reminder to the dangers of optimism in a capitalist society.

Anime is in a similarly precarious position. We can see the slow rise of Chinese animation with every new anime season. Quite recently it was brought to my attention that South Korea’s webtoons are becoming a hot new trend within western audiences. Competitors from the rest of Asia are starting to stack up, giving the impression that global focus is slowly shifting away from the American-backed Japan, inching closer and closer toward China.

I feel very similarly about anime as I do about Japan. The medium is in decay. Rather than be depressed by that realization, it means a new opportunity for the medium and the hobby to reinvent itself. It means an opportunity for new people in discovery of it to inject new values into our fandom. Change has always been a net positive for anime.

Fantasizing about preparing myself for a life in Japan, when I knew nothing about the place, was an escape from the stressful reality of my teenage years. Even though I liked the idea of translating anime, I didn’t particularly enjoy doing it even as a fan translator. When the time came to enroll into college, I picked a computer science course. I thought it was the smarter career pick, plus I didn’t hate working with computers.

I also met people from where I live who gave me reasons to believe home ain’t all that bad. If I get a job offer from Japan today, sure I’ll think about giving it a try for a year or two, but in my mind Japan is simply not a place where I would like to raise a family. I enjoy it as a “home away from home”, but I don’t worship it anymore as a place where I can become myself.

I’ll face up to the fact that my motivations for doing what I do are fickle. But what I think makes me an otaku is that I continuously manage to tie those changing motivations back to my hobby. And I’m proud of that.

Pilgrimage Shorts: Spec-Ops Asuka

Welcome to the first installment of Pilgrimage Shorts. Join me as I retread the most memorable anime pilgrimages from my last trip to Japan. I already wrote about my Granbelm pilgrimage, but for the rest I believe a shorter format will suffice. Let’s get to it!

Spec-Ops Asuka wasn’t extraordinary, but it did have some great character designs plus the opening song by nonoc was a banger. A military fantasy with an isekai backdrop, Asuka consistently incorporated real-life locations to tie itself to our reality. It prominently featured locations from Shibuya, Shinjuku and elsewhere, comparisons of which you can find in Wilhelm Donko’s Anime vs. Real Life post.

I will not be as thorough as Wilhelm, but I do have a tale to tell of how I tumbled down the rabbit hole as I paused at the following scene from the third episode. Also, about my effort to track it down in real life.

Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka 03
Spec-Ops Asuka episode 03

This throwaway background, which could have been any stock background image and nobody would have batted an eye, actually has an equivalent in the real world. I thought it had too much going on for it to be just another background artist’s routine brain fart. The focus of my search was the black storefront, which had the awnings and the distinct window shapes. This was a good artifact to focus on, but where to start the search?

From the episode, we know that the girls were returning from a public swimming pool back toward Shinjuku Station. So the next logical step was to open up Google Maps, find Shinjuku Station, and search for nearby pools.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any facilities with Olympic swimming pools nearby, as was the case in the episode, nevertheless one of the results turned out to be very amusing. I will assume that you, the reader, are a man – or woman – of culture, therefore you probably know about the existence of a very specific pool in Tokyo, one more commonly referred to as That Pool.  That’s right, the Hanazono Room, frequently featured in Japanese bikini porn and hardcore hentai is located very close to Yasukuni Street, which is also the real location of the background above. The proximity of this pool might just be a funny coincidence, but I choose to believe that storyboard chose this location on purpose. Now you are free to fantasize that the girls actually went to spend a relaxing afternoon in one of Shinjuku’s hottest premium properties.

Isetan Men's Shinjuku vs. Spec-Ops Asuka 03
Isetan Men’s Shinjuku

The chic storefront belongs to Isetan Men’s, a larger fashion and lifestyle complex. The store’s name was censored for obvious reasons. The awnings on either end of the black storefront series, along with the rectangular white arcs provide the most proof that this is indeed the background under consideration. The glass reliefs are portrayed in gist, but contribute substantially to making the scene unmistakable.

Isetan Men's Shinjuku storefront
The glass reliefs are but quick-and-dirty approximations

I’m not sure how to justify spending my last afternoon in Japan hunting for this garbage location. I felt like not many other people are interested in generic backgrounds and their origin. What’s more, there is something satisfying about knowing that other people missed something and you didn’t, even if it holds little aesthetic value to them. The location wasn’t easy to find either. So I consider this hunt as a unique accomplishment. Thank you for reading!

Isetan Men's Shinjuku
With less pedestrians

Granbelm Pilgrimage to Lake Biwa

Granbelm is not the greatest show ever made, nor is it as picturesque as a Shinkai flick, but it was interesting enough for us to reserve time for a pilgrimage to some of its locations. Scouted by @kai881, we set our course to Lake Biwa, which is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. Tucked into Shiga prefecture and a stone’s throw away from Kyoto makes Biwa a wonderful day trip.

Shirahige Shrine, Shiga
Shirahige Shrine torii in early afternoon

So far, the anime has prominently featured four locations from around the lake:

  • Otsu City Wani Elementary School district
  • Shirahige Jinja
  • Mangetsu-ji
  • Biwako Ohashi Bridge

Sad to say, we weren’t able to visit all of them. If I were traveling alone – which I wasn’t – maybe I would have powered through one more before suffering a heat stroke. In the land of Japan this year, Summer has been especially unforgiving. The Sun was pressing down with temperatures over 97 degrees Fahrenheit, making any prolonged exposure to it as deadly as Granbelm itself.

The location I wanted to visit the most was Shirahige Shrine, which not only is a fine choice for any anime setting, it also features a torii being erected just off the shore of the Lake. A rarity in Japan and quite an item for Instagram purposes.

Takashima City, Shiga
Rice paddies out of Takashima City

In Japan, public transportation is your friend. At Kyoto, board a local train on the Kosei Line for Tsuruga, then get off at Omi-Takashima Station. Rent a bicycle at the station’s tourist information office, then peddle south along the lake to reach your destination. During planning, my biggest worry was that we wouldn’t be allowed to cycle all the way out to the shrine, because it is located just out of Takashima City bounds. An alternative would have been an expensive taxi ride, or a fourty-minute walk under the scorching Sun. Fortunately, bike rental was a go. The ride took us past FURUSATO rice paddies, then along an intimidating motor highway, running right next to the lake’s shore. Luckily, there was a sidewalk.

Judging by the number of people visiting at the hottest hours of the day, Shirahige Shrine seems to be quite popular. There’s the water torii of course, but also it’s a head shrine of its kind. I won’t go into it, however you can read about its neat speculative history on Wikipedia. In retrospect, it was one of the prettier shrines that we saw while in Japan.

Shirahige Shrine pilgrimage
Looking over Lake Biwa from the highground

Let’s talk about the relevant part of the trip. The torii was quite dangerous to get to, because the highway basically runs across the shrine’s grounds, separating its eleven temples from the torii. Aside from that, we found Kuon’s bench from the second episode, from where she was overlooking a conversation between Ernesta and Mangetsu.

Shirahige Shrine Granbelm pilgrimage
Entrance comparison from the shore

Even though I wasn’t completely satisfied with the photos, I was just glad I unlocked the achievement of visiting the place. After that, we headed back to Omi-Takashima Station the same way we came from, hopping on the train back toward Kyoto and getting off at Katata Station.

Mangetsuji, Shiga
Granbelm episode 9 – The entrance to Mangetsuji

The second and last model location that we visited was Mangetsu-ji, which appears to be Kuon’s house in the anime. I didn’t know the name of the shrine until I got to the entrance. I just knew we had to visit something called the Ukimidou, which is the floating temple thingy. It was pretty amusing for a second to think Mangetsu got her name from this shrine, then again naming characters after nearby places is not an uncommon practice. Kamishiro Maiku from Onegai Twins got his last name from the train station north of Uminokuchi.

One feature of the Ukimidou, which is not visible from the outside, is that it is enshrining roughly a thousand small Kannon statues. A part of the structure was undergoing renovation, so even though entering it was allowed we had to be a bit careful around the construction rods. That being said, it might have been one of the more chill places to sit down and enjoy a breeze. Not to mention the view of Lake Biwa.

Mangetsuji Ukimido, Shiga
Mangetsu-ji Ukimidou from a park nearby

Leaving the shrine’s grounds to the left and taking a walk through a back alley brought us to a park where I was able to get the best angle of Ukimidou. Kuon seems to sit down at the best photo-op spots. The resting area didn’t resemble the drawings in the show too closely, but it’s not that off the mark either. You also have an opportunity to walk right up to the lake’s shore and take photos there.

There weren’t that many other visitors at the time, likely because they gave up in the middle of the one-mile distance from Katata Station. One mile doesn’t sound like a lot, but let me tell you it was a dangerous round trip to undertake. I suspect I got mild heat exhaustion after that ordeal. My suggestion is to spend the night in Katata, then go sightseeing first thing in the morning. The same goes for Shirahige Shrine. Photos taken during sunset or sunrise there look simply magnificent.

Mangetsuji, Shiga
What in the world was I thinking …

That’s it, folks. I did take a few photos of Biwako Ohashi Bridge from afar, alas for better shots I will have to repeat the trip. In a few years time, perhaps. Granbelm is a pretty neat show, it even convinced my SO to follow it, which almost never happens with her and television anime.

Either way, I recommend this pilgrimage. The locations are close to JR infrastructure, and although you will need a good day or two to work through all of them, I’d say the attractions are worth the expense.

Other images:

What’s Different from My Last Trip to Japan

Writing from Osaka, after a tiresome day of roaming the Shima peninsula. The highlight of the trip were definitely the Wedded Rocks. I can’t say the same for our second destination, Ise Jingu, the so called Soul of Japan. The heat got to me, probably.

The Wedded Rocks at Futamiokitama Shrine
The Wedded Rocks at Futamiokitama Shrine

Indeed, I wrote in plural. In 2016, I cohabitated with friends, however I went through most of the sightseeing by myself. This time the girlfriend came with me. She’s been a great companion so far, both out here in Japan and in life. Before we headed off to the East, we knew we were severely out of shape for any intense sightseeing schedules. We went hiking a couple of times before the trip, to get back into shape, but I think we hadn’t made much progress. Even so, this heat is not for the living to walk under. Big cities like Osaka are especially terrible in that regard. Without warning, you find yourself in a heat pocket, stuck in front of a red traffic light. We are still alive though.

So I guess I’m back to blaming the weather. I admit, the last time I visited I came under-prepared. After landing in Japan, as you walk through the plane’s doors, the first thing you feel is a gush of hot air. At first you attribute it to bad air conditioning at the terminal, the heat emissions from the airplane or the taxi runway, then you finally realize you are currently in a different, hotter climate. No matter which part of Japan I visited, I packed two spare regular T-shirts, a towel, and Biore pads. I sweated like a pig, I hated the climate. But mostly I felt embarrassed being in the vicinity of other people whilst being sweaty like that.

I did some research on the topic of sweating. Yes, naturally I sweat more than the average person. But there are ways to fighting sweat effectively.

The first thing to think about is how to move from place to place. Don’t walk too fast. Back in 2016, I was constantly rushing myself to go see more places. The second mistake was to be stingy with public transport. I would sometimes walk an hour extra rather than to pay the 800 Yen subway fare. That being said, I was very tight on the money. Third, I lacked proper clothing.

Well, I guess I learned how to walk more calmly, and to stop panicking about missing the targeted trains. I know my Japanese trains now … almost. The money situation for this trip sorted itself out after I got full employment. In 2016, I was still one leg in school, one leg out in the working world.

As for the clothing? If you are planning a trip to warm places, do yourself a favor and spend extra on that. I bought a bunch of T-shirts made from merino wool. These don’t accumulate heavy body odor, they feel good to wear, and most importantly they dry up faster than almost any fabric, as they wick sweat away from your body. Unlike cotton. Even if you do sweat as much to be completely drenched in one, because of the woolen texture you won’t feel wet. How you feel makes all the difference if you are easily irritated by heat, like I am.

All of a sudden, I don’t mind the Japanese climate that much and I get to do the laundry less often.

Also, I got myself a decent point-and-shoot camera. I wanted to minimize my time taking photos, whereas in 2016 I was using my smartphone. Touch screens are not that great when you have sweaty and shaky hands. Also, the constant reopening of the camera app was very annoying.

What else is different? Back then I was staying in Tokyo for the entirety of my trip, which affected sightseeing of remote places, since traveling had taken a good chunk of time out of every day trip. For example, I had to spend roughly ten hours for a round trip to Hiroshima on the Shinkansen, which left me with less than five hours to see the actual city. Aside from the strain on the body and mind, such travel itineraries were simply huge wastes of time.

For this year we booked hotels in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagano. We are moving to a different city in a couple of days. This measure significantly cuts down on travel time for day trips. I also picked hotels close to Shinkansen terminal stations, because I didn’t want to spend an hour commuting across the city just to get to the terminal.

Now I’ll list a couple things that haven’t changed.

My Japanese is still horrible. I know a decent chunk of the common vocabulary, but where I truly struggle is the grammar. The reason for that is that I never actually learned Japanese in a structured manner; I just let whatever I heard sink in. Conversations initiated by third parties tend to catch me off-guard so hard, I likely blurt out a fusion of the three languages I know best. But apparently my nihongo is jouzu. Please shoot me.

Another one is the regret I felt when I realized I was too late to purchase tickets for the Ghibli Museum. I rewatched Princess Mononoke a month ago and thought it was amazing, as opposed to the first time I watched it when I was a teen. The Ghibli Museum is very popular. Tickets go on sale on the tenth of the month prior to the month of the visit and sell out very quickly. I was postponing the purchase, because I got a bit weary of paying for all the other expenses related to the trip, until it was too late. One day, perhaps.

I suppose I have more luck when it comes to the next generation of great anime directors. Three years ago I got to see Kimi no Na Wa, now I got to see Tenki no Ko. I consider myself blessed to have planned Japan for the Summer seasons that mattered the most, anime-wise.

That’s all, folks! I’m not sure what I wanted to say with this post. I guess I just wanted to share some experiences. It’s not the usual of what you find on this blog, even though my content and styles vary a lot, but I hope you enjoyed.

If you have any questions regarding visiting Japan, I’ll be happy to answer.

Tenki no Ko – A Generous Review

No matter how much I want to dodge the following conversation, fans will compare this work to Kimi no Na Wa no matter what. I don’t like this approach, because it’s not very fair. Kimi no Na Wa was great. The story was intense, the charaters were cute, and it highlighted relevant issues. Tenki no Ko isn’t a feel-good, popcorn sekai-kei like the former. It got a couple of chuckles out of me, sure. But at its core it’s realistic and political. It’s not even that it doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s just that those kids didn’t deserve such lives. I suspect most people will be turned off by that and rather retreat to Mitsuha and Taki, who overcame their struggle from the position of comfort.

What makes Tenki no Ko bittersweet? Hina and Hodaka are living without parents, one by choice, the other by tragic circumstance. What I like about this dichotomy is that there’s very little that we get to know about Hodaka’s circumstances. This guy left home and doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s probably just a spoiled brat, right? I don’t think so. I think his reasons might just be serious enough that the movie doesn’t want to deal with them. Instead, he runs away, to Tokyo of all places, one of the most expensive cities to live in on planet Earth.

And Hina? Because her guardians have already passed away, as a 14-year-old she is forced to provide income for her and her brother, to keep social services at bay. She has other problems as well, such as divinity deciding to take her as a sacrifice in order to restore natural balance. For this, she gains an ability to control the weather. Hodaka is in the same financial boat as she is, they are both desperate to make money. After Hodaka discovers Hina and her powers whilst tracking down the famous urban legend trending under #%100HareOnna, they come up with a website where they sell good weather as a service. Of course, the gods want something in return.

In the end, Hodaka rescues her from the Styx. I think the way he was allowed to do that was pretty dumb, but I admit the movie is kind of wild with letting weird shit happen in general. My favorite meme was how every time Hodaka found himself pinned to the floor by thugs or cops, someone was there to push them away. It was just one type of event that showed cops in an unfavorable light.

Seriously, Shinkai hates the establishment. This one has a teenager pointing a gun at a police officer, two of his other movies portray protagonists as terrorists. I love it!

Most of this movie I felt horrible though, but not in a good, cathartic way. I’ve seen and lived through too much of the social issues on display to take it as cold-served entertainment. This movie portrays the type of real-life shit that is usually hidden away by the classroom or the workplace.

In the spirit of capitalism, Japan and especially Tokyo, with its efficient infrastructure, has to mask away the inefficiencies and do away with civilizational defects. In this case the defects are Hina and Nagisa. This cutthroat environment got her fired, not because she was incompetent, but because she was too kind for the job. Hina, you don’t give a man a free lunch if he is supposed to pay for it!

To be fair, the State did take care of them in the end. Even Hodaka got off the hook kind of easily, but I suspect this development was positively reinforced by the sudden change in state priorities after the sudden change in weather.

Taki’s grandma said it best: “We used to have separate seasons.” This seems like a pretty relevant political statement that Slavoj Zizek would very much enjoy. So do I.

I’m all for less pollution, but under this green movement, there seems to be a lot of conceit regarding nature. This movement didn’t spring out from the outskirts of the civilization, where pollution is actually an acute serious problem. No, it’s the city folks who are teaching the uneducated hicks and Chinese how to sort their trash. The conceit lies in that we think we can control nature, and in the expectation that the environment is made hospitable for humans to thrive in. When Hina asked Hodaka if he wanted the rain to stop, he just repeated what everybody else watching the news was thinking. Of course, make the rain stop if you have the means! Hina, being the nice girl that she is, did the deed that was expected of her.

Right now, heavy rains are covering the entire country. I heard Nagasaki-ken got flooded heavily, there might be victims or injuries due to heavy rain … I can’t but feel for the residents, especially those who are facing loss of housing or work stations. There are of course other consequences, invisible to the eye. Millions of Japanese yen lost to infrastructure shutdowns, prices rising, jobs lost to negative cash flow from decreased business …

Our civilization is getting to a point where supply lines management is getting stupidly efficient, risk management takes care of failures before they happen, and critical infrastructure is secured as well as it possibly could be. But in the end I have to say, isn’t all this just masking the fact that civilization is very much fragile? This is where Shinkai comes in to say: don’t worry, even if Tokyo is submerged, we will work something out, everything will be all right. The world was chaotic before civilization came by, why do we assume it should be any less chaotic today?

World End Economica 3 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 led 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 stop trivializing mental illness issues. Hagana wasn’t merely 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 whenever it’s used to lighten up the heavier aspects of a fictional character.

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.