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.

First Winter ’18 Anime Impressions

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho: A faithful encounter sets up a group of teenage girls to plan a trip to the South Pole. The premise seems odd, specific, and therefore sufficient to give it a go, I just don’t know if I’ll finish it. My biggest concern is that we will have to sit through the boring planning stage for too many episodes. Relationships between the girls, and of course Shirase’s character development seem to be par for the course, which is something I’m not sure I’m up for this time. Still, I was impressed by the character designs and the premise itself, which is enough to give the show one more chance. Please be good.

Nanatsu no Taizai: I didn’t think we would see a second season for it, and while it serves as a reminder that the enjoyable first season once aired, the first episode was kind of a mess. Ban leaving made no sense to me. Meliodas demonstrating his dominance over other Holy Knights and the introduction of a scouter was super cringey. Good shounen battle stories like Boku no Hero Academia continue to be made, but the start of this season didn’t do justice to what I remember of the first. It’s quite possible the show was never that good to begin with.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni: I thought this was gonna be one of those disgusting shows like Kuzu no Honkai, yet surprisingly Tachibana acting out turned out to be less creepy and more cute. Loved how Kondou handled himself as well. I suppose it’s all in the framing of said acts. The show does great to show a character’s state instead of exposing it through dialogue, the background work I thought was pretty great as well. What makes or breaks this one for me will be how boring the dynamic between the two gets, or how many useless characters it introduces to avoid that. Also, this is a manga adaptation? I sincerely hope the show doesn’t wrap up halfway into it.

Violet Evergarden: A story about a recovering child soldier. While this is a bit of a thematical departure from Kyoto Animation’s usual fare, the drama in the first episode felt cheap and disposable, which in hindsight is pretty typical of them. With the way Violet is set up to go on an emotional rollercoaster herself, I suspect that not much will change for the rest of the show. I’m pretty disappointed, just because I was hoping for the studio to make a bigger leap from the genres it usually covers. Kyoto Animation will always have second chances with me, but this sentimental schlock is right up their alley.

Darling in the Franxx: A new season of Star Driver? I’m fine with this. The one worry I had from seeing the trailer was that the exhibited juvenile angst would bother me too much. For now, I was largely unphased by it. Other than that, the one casual sexual assault scene makes me confident that the show’s script writers just don’t give a fuck, which is enough to keep an eye on it for the time being.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens: These days it is not uncommon for anime shows to set up deals with towns or municipalities in order to promote tourism. Reading the description, however, the show comes across almost anti-tourist, saying that Hakata, where the story is taking place, is chalk-full of criminals. From a quick Google search it seems that, indeed, the city of Fukuoka has some of the highest crime rates in the country. Which isn’t saying much, because Japan is probably the safest country in the world. The characters, all psychopaths by the way, say that 3% of Hakata’s population are assassins. The existence of a corporation called RedRum, whose open secret is that they dispatch assassins for hire, makes it seem like the entire nation suffers from moral deficiencies. Murder is illegal, sure, but that’s about it. Quite possibly the most intriguing show of the season so far.

Stanje 2017

Januarja sem se razpisal o slovenski anime sceni, kot se ponavadi vsako leto na katerem od mojih blogov ali na Twitterju. Z oceno bi se težko ne-strinjal v celoti, se pa nekaterih delov kar malce sramujem. Še posebej zadnje čase se za konkretna mnenja čedalje težje opredeljujem, ker se bolj kot kdajkoli prej zavedam svojih pristranskosti. Kar se tiče slovenske anime scene, imam v mislih zasidrano neko, morda zastarelo idejo, kako naj bi le-ta izgledala, realnost je pa pač takšna, kot je.

Pa definirajmo pojem, ki nam bo omogočil bolje oceniti to drugo, dejansko stanje: Prosumer.

Prosumerjev anime-manga vsebin te dni je v Sloveniji skoraj gotovo več kot deset let nazaj. Za Makkon 2017 je znano, da je dogodek obiskalo več kot 2000 obiskovalcev. Leta 2010 je bila ta številka desetkrat manjša. Torej, smotrno je sklepati, da se je tudi število prosumerjev sorazmerno povečalo, le da svojo energijo vlagajo v stvari, ki do nedavnega niso bile na mojem radarju. Včasih so bili ti ljudje recenzenti, novičkarji, prevajalci in organizatorji spletnih skupnosti, danes pa so jih zamenjali cosplayerji, ilustratorji in organizatorji dogodkov.

Januarja sem ilustratorje praktično odpisal. Po obisku njihovih stojnic na Makkonu in poslušanju njihovih predstavitev pa ne morem več zanikati, da se tradicija ilustratorstva krepi, da so med seboj dobro organizirani, ter da jim uspeva nekaj, kar prejšnji sceni ni – s svojimi izdelki ustvarjajo ekonomski dobiček.

Prva slovenska manga revija, MAGnet, prav tako ni bila za odpis. Njeno urednico dobro poznam, zato tudi vem, kako zelo ceni mange in koliko strokovnega usposabljanja je dala skozi, da je takšen izdelek sploh možen v slovenskem prostoru. Gre za veliko več, kot za prevod. Že izbor poglavij ne bi bil kvaliteten brez poglobljenega razumevanja medija. Da revija vzdržuje stik z japonskimi avtorji skozi daljši čas, gre pa prav gotovo za svojevrsten dosežek.

V teh ozirih sem z oceno resnično delal krivice. Kljub temu pa se ne bi odpovedal nekaterim opazkam čez kulturo slovenskih anime-manga konvencij.

Cosplayerjev že na splošno ne maram, ker dobijo absolutno preveč pozornosti sorazmerno glede na njihov doprinos k hobiju. Fotografije cosplayerjev na dogodke privabljajo tudi ljudi, ki niso zainteresirani za animeje ali mange. To gre še najbolj na roko trgovcem, ki lahko na anime-manga dogodke privlečejo tudi Hollywoodski kič. Tako so tudi organizatorjem cosplayerji v potuho, ker če obisk raste v zahvalo pomanjkljivo oblečenim najstnicam, se jim ni treba preveč truditi z ostalim programom. Zato tokrat graja Makkonu, ker program predavanj že vrsto let stagnira, za razliko od NMN, ki ga je še vsako leto nadgradila. Makkon je bil edini kulturni dogodek na temo animejev-mang v Ljubljani v celem letu, zato me kar potre, da se lahko pohvalijo le z obiskom.

Da povzamem, črnogledo sem odpisal kakšno stvar preveč. Deset let nazaj si nisem znal predstavljati, da bo Slovenija kdaj premogla manga ilustratorje svetovnega kalibra. Si pa tudi nisem mislil, da se bo tradicija kritike, nekoč kruh in mleko slovenskega ljubiteljskega prostora, popolnoma porušila. Vseeno se mi ne zdi, da stojimo na trdnih tleh. Treba bo več truda, da se vzpostavi določeno infrastrukturo ter da se ljubitelje vsaj deloma konsolidira.

V znak povedanega pa bi rad odprl še kritiko na samega sebe. Tudi jaz sem zaspal. Nisem več tisti strokovnjak, za katerega sem se sam še nekaj let nazaj štel. Včasih sem bil otaku, ne dolgo nazaj pa se mi je posvetilo, da sem v dejanskosti riajuu. Roko na srce, po definiciji se ne počutim preveč zadovoljno, kljub temu da obkljukam vse pogoje zanje. Del mene bo vedno otaku. A moral si bom ponovno izboriti čas, da se zatopim v material, nadaljevati z učenjem japonščine in podobno, da bom imel nekoč spet kaj resnično pametnega za povedati.

Hladno dejstvo je, da z živžavom in spanjem na lovorikah ne bomo daleč prilezli.

Veselo in uspešno v 2018!

In Defense of an MMO Junkie

If there was one complaint over Net-juu no Susume that gave me pause to think about, was that it didn’t deliver as a romance show. And I have to agree. It marketed itself as such, set viewer expectations ablaze, only to wrap things up with the OTP holding hands.

Before the show ended, I was contemplating about the kind of ending that I wanted to see. I wasn’t praying for Moriko and Yuuta to hook up, rather I just wanted Moriko to be happy. I honestly didn’t want her situation to change all of a sudden just because she happened to meet a hot guy. Certainly, guy problems weren’t what pushed her down the path of a NEET, and I can tell you from my own experiences love is not what solves these types of problems either. But it’s easy to assume that.

The list of assumptions is lengthier than it seems. For example, does Moriko ever signal, either with spoken or body language, that she is physically attracted to Yuuta? She makes a few observations about his appearance: his blonde hair and blue eyes, not to mention calling him an ikemen. However, it’s hard to call that an unequivocal declaration of lust or attraction. Ikemen, as an ideal of Japanese masculine beauty, is very formalized, to the point it got itself its own term.

Speaking of our pretty boy character, it can’t be a coincidence that Yuuta as Lily performs a very masculinized feminine ideal, while in the real world he is performing the quintessential ikemen. In this way, he clads himself with traditional Japanese gender aesthetics at their extremes at any given moment.

And in that last scene, Moriko still seems quite miserable, despite herself landing a hot, rich ikemen. Moreso, from her words it seems she feels pressured to reintegrate back into society. That’s why the scene doesn’t have them cuddling together by the computer screen, but rather them walking alongside as proper man and woman out in public, while their gender-swapped, improper identities are hiding in the glass reflection.

I suppose this all has to do with the issue of the symbolic order, doesn’t it? Viewers expected Moriko to get herself a man, but by the end their relationship as lovers gives off the impression that it’s still half-baked. So what do our expectations for this relationship say about us? That we don’t care about Moriko’s wishes, even if she gave zero indication throughout the series that she is attracted to Yuuta as a man?

As the old saying goes: maybe she’s just not that into him.

Well, I found the show enjoyable purely outside of the romantic context. The documentary aspect of NEET life was my favorite part, as I’ve already alluded to in my previous post. However, what I found beautiful about Moriko and Yuuta’s story was that it produced a wonderful relationship, the one before they knew of each other’s sexual identity. Those weren’t important. I would also go so far as to say that they both felt more comfortable around each other when their relationship was still online-only. Every scene of them together in real life afterwards just felt awkward.

Therefore, I wish for others to think of this show more as a mischievous play on our assumptions on gender and how society ought to function, rather than a formulaic romance story that failed to achieve its archetypal goals. If nothing else, the outside of those genre confines, I reckon, was a far more positive experience.

Morioka Moriko’s Recovery

Tired Morioka Moriko
Le tired

Let me start with an old Shinbo Akiyuki interview, in which he expresses his view on hikikomori:

The character Erio is a bit of a hikikomori. Lately, it seems that the darker side of otaku culture, including NEETs, hikikomori, and those with unhealthy obsessions, have a greater presence in recent anime. What do you want otaku viewers, particularly those prone to this sort of lifestyle, to get out of your works?

Shinbo: The very first idea that I want to share is, “Who cares if you are a hikikomori?” If I didn’t have this job I, too, may have become a NEET. I thought that it would be nice if people, including myself, could step out and do something…but at the same time, who cares if you can’t take that very first step yet? What’s wrong with not taking it?

With this in mind, the title for the show Net-juu no Susume has to be one of the more curious ones, both the Japanese and the English title. There’s also the engrish title RECOMMENDATION OF THE WONDERFUL VIRTUAL LIFE, but shouldn’t be studied too carefully. It’s true that Morioka Moriko is looking for online game recommendations. It’s also true that the Japanese word for recommendation is often written in katakana (ススメ). However, this usage of katakana promotes a different reading. It decouples itself from semantically definite homonyms like 勧め (recommendation) or 進め (to advance, progress, move forward), of which the latter was used to twist and twine the English title Recovery of an MMO Junkie.

The thing that I hate about the word recovery is that in this context of NEET and hikikomori it’s used kind of derogatorily. It invites us to perceive Moriko as somebody who has fallen from grace by leaving the workforce and becoming an MMO addict. Now that she’s meeting all these people again, she’s getting back to her own self, which means becoming once more a functioning adult who valiantly contributes to society. That’s what I get out of that. However, as someone who used to fashion the NEET lifestyle, my perception of Moriko’s state is that of envy. In fact, I envied her so much that I downloaded TERA from Steam and clocked in around 13 hours since last week. This show made me nostalgic for the time when I (thought I) could just drop out of worldly affairs and indulged in time sinks such as Final Fantasy XI, anime blogging, or fansub drama. If you allow me to be a bit more frank, after I turned 20 I got stuck in basically the same rut as Morimori for around five years of my life.

In the first episode, after an exhausting day of work, Moriko throws herself to the bed, landing flat on her face. I remember that feeling all too well. You can’t be bothered to do anything. You stop. You swear to God you had enough. The details about events leading up to that point in Moriko’s life are obscured. Do we need to know what happened to her? I don’t have to, and neither do the people that have gone through similar experiences that she has. That feeling of falling down and lying mentally exhausted was all we needed to know what was to come – a long moratorium, followed by her progressing and eventually graduating from NEET life.

The short story is that I eventually figured my shit out and moved on. I don’t believe that you can be NEET for longer than a decade, by which I mean to say that this kind of life is only a temporary state of affairs. Most people that I personally know who have at one point taken pride of being NEET or hikikomori have been living like that for a couple of months to up to a couple of years, at most. For most of us, not doing anything meaningful was basically a form of self-therapy, personal growth, or whatever you want to call it. These days, I view that part of my life as an almost inevitable phase that I had to go through.

Shinbo states something very profound: some simply can’t take that step … yet. And what’s wrong with not taking it? Whenever I meet crazy or visibly damaged people I feel relieved that I had put my life on hold to figure things out, as I suspect I would be a walking mess otherwise. Moriko obviously has her own issues to work through first, then she might be ready to reengage with society. Or maybe not. In the ending that I’m rooting for Moriko remains a shut-in, for at least a while longer, with hints of her making progress on her issues. I would just hate it if a hot guy that suddenly appeared in her life was all it took for her to reach inner peace. Because why the fuck would a different person be able to solve all of your problems? Either way, I don’t think her issues stem from anything relating to loneliness, but it would be a goddamn travesty if the show that depicted the elite NEET mindset so well ended up as merely a fucking romance drama. That’s just plain evil.

Whatever the case, the show rocks so far and Moriko is hot.

Two Surprising Shows That Have Saved The Summer 2017 Anime Season

There are a couple of genres that I simply don’t touch anymore. Among them is what is more commonly referred to as the school life genre, for which I am brewing intense hatred just by it being so commonplace and boring at the same time. The second one is iyashikei. I’m not sure what shows even fall under it, but the genre degraded together with Junichi Satou’s brand of four-season delights. Imagine, that the trashiest school life summer show managed to press the right buttons for me, and that another, equally as unambitious from the plot description, now lulls me to sleep every week.

First, Hajimete no Gal. As a precursor I have to state that I like gyaru. I don’t mean the compensated-dating tainted subculture of the late 90s that made international headlines painting Japan as the most degenerate place on Earth. I’m talking about the version that the otaku patched to fit their own desires. Otaku are very much romantics at heart, myself included, it’s no wonder there are so many pure-hearted moe girls in anime and not that many slutty ones, as seen in shows like Scum’s Wish. Yame-san from Hajimete no Gal dresses and acts like a slut but in reality she’s just a nice girl with a tender heart. She’s sort of like the classic Shakugan no Shana tsundere archetype, except it doesn’t play too hard off the polarities of the condition. I forgot, it’s called gap moe. Observe how Yame-san is master of reading the atmosphere, yet giving off an aura of inaccessibility. Dressing up like someone from Geordie Shore is Yame’s armor. She needs it right now, in order to grow as a person.

I speculated this to be the schtick before the show hit the waves. Hajimete no Gal is capitalizing on years of gyaru manga tradition. I can confirm this to be a big trend in porno manga as well. However this show unfolds, my hats off to the producers for recognizing the growing interest in this fetish.

Second, Isekai Shokudou. It is my common grievance that too many shows get hyped as iyashikei these days. There’s a specific feeling associated with iyashikei, and I’d be hard-pressed to agree it’s all just about the sensations of an ephemeral, fleeting reality. This show is different from the happy fuwa-fuwa of drinking tea with your childhood friends on a hot summer day. The doors to the western restaurant Nekoya, every seven days they fill me with dread. In the show, customers sit down and marvel at the polished look of IKEA tables, lose their senses in the simplest of pasta dishes, and at the end leave with a big smile from receiving a cozy, personalized service. However, they never leave through the front door, and they never come back with an army, like a certain other world did in a certain other isekai show. Notice that the process of preparing their meals is concealed behind the kitchen door. They understand that sophisticated techniques and gadgetry had to be used to make their meals – signs of a great civilization. Had they tried looking through the kitchen door, they might see the stove or electric appliances and wonder too much. But us viewers should be feeling creeped out and guilty, because we know the price of this thing called progress.

Nekoya’s dishes are the best our civilization has to offer, even though its disappearing doors might be entrances to Hell itself. Every restaurant has its back-alley though, but I think we can all agree the customers don’t come to see that.

Both shows I highly recommend. (EDIT: Not really, I dropped both a few weeks in.)

Re:CREATORS – The Protagonist’s Struggle to Shine

recreatorsA friend of mine once ran a panel on how to create fictional characters. One of the things he mentioned was that a character’s silhouette is a good way to assess how well a character is defined, at least visually. If the character is recognizable from the silhouette alone, the creators did a good job. This grading tool is appropriate to most game characters or shounen-esque figures from anime or manga, but I’d argue it’s not very useful when creating characters that look normal. So when a show like Re:CREATORS decided to put an ordinary high school boy like Mizushino Souta next to an assembly of visually strong characters from books and media that he is a fan of, it’s no surprise some of the viewers have Souta written off as a self-insert.

The reason why everybody hates self-inserts is that they are a relic from a time when media literacy wasn’t as high as it is today. Aside from giving the viewer an angle from which he or she is comfortable experiencing the story – in this case an anime fan with an unadventurous high school life – there’s not much merit to be had with them. But gaming culture that came to prominence only reinforced the need to have a character like that around. The problem is that the self-insert is already a well-studied device and makes some people uncomfortable merely by being present, by unwittingly generalizing them.

I’m writing this because I have a strong suspicion that Re:CREATORS is trying to do something more with Souta. That there’s a connection between him and Military Uniform Princess and that he has a role to play is obvious enough and really not something to write home about. But the one visual sign that forbids me from thinking of him as a self-insert is the scene from episode 1 where he walks upstairs to his bedroom. Series composition decided on a first-person perspective, but the interesting thing about its atypical camera positioning is that it’s situated between Souta’s eyeballs where his nose is. The edges of his glasses are visible and appear to be blurred, indicating it’s not Souta who’s watching him climb the stairs, but rather us, the viewers. This scene is trying to say Souta is his own character with his own unique eyeglass prescription, separating him from the viewer he is by convention supposed to fill in for.

Souta receiving such careful treatment signifies the series’ ambitious nature with what it wants to say. At the surface level, Re:CREATORS is set up in fashion of a typical Battle Royale story that pits characters from different worlds with obviously different worldviews against each other. The verbal standoff in episode 2 between Selecia Upitiria and Kirameki Mamika is a good example. Selecia drives Mamika into a corner by the sense she is making, arguing against Mamika’s simplistic views, forcing her to lash out in a very childish and expected manner. Selecia countering Mamika’s words before she even had a chance to say what she was thinking was hilarious not just because she was putting a child back to her rightful place, but because Mamika’s island mentality rests at the core of every good Battle Royale-type story.

In the original Battle Royale, a group of classmates is kidnapped and taken to an island where they fight each other to death. As it turns out the illusion of a harmonious classroom is shattered when survival is at stake. The only way to win the game is by killing God that put them in this scenario in the first place. Anime shows like Mirai Nikki, Death Note, and Re:CREATORS derive the drive for their characters to become or replace Gods from the same place this iconic piece of cinema did. But Selecia’s refutals are just too good and strike too close to what makes these shows tick. Re:CREATORS has proven it knows what it’s doing, and for that I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Some of the dismissive commentary is justified though. Souta has undeniably been the passive protagonist, driving the story by proxy of somehow being related to Military Uniform Princess. In a way, it feels like the show is willing to let Souta take the back seat whilst holding their relationship secret until the appropriate moment. But it’s not like passive protagonists haven’t been a thing even in some of the most highly acclaimed anime. One example of that would be Hoshi no Koe, where the protagonist is merely keeping contact with the girl he likes, while she’s off fighting aliens in the depths of space and time. Passive protagonists that have beautiful fighting girls carrying out the actual fighting for them, as is the relationship between Souta and the girls on his side, are a characteristic of sekai-kei – a story genre that usually features a small group of characters influencing the state of the world without intervention of the world at large. Now, this assertion would be a stretch if it weren’t for the fact the show is firmly planted in survival-kei tradition. The most important thing to keep in mind when talking about sekai-kei and survival-kei is that the tropes behind them are just two sides of the same coin. Whilst the main heroine from a sekai-kei story unconditionally loves the protagonist and fights for him against an Other, characters from a Battle Royale-type story mercilessly antagonize anyone that doesn’t conform to their worldview.

“I might be you, or I might not be, but I’m sure I’m somewhere close to you.”

I’m not 100% confident to proclaim what this show is trying to do, but it has gathered all the ingredients to cook up significant meta commentary. That being said, I am kind of fed up with shows that just bank on appealing to the viewer’s pride of their knowledge of tropes. Therefore, if Re:CREATORS wants to make a statement while being meta as fuck, finding a way to elevate the passive self-insert into an actual main character may just be the noble goal that it needs.

Overshadowed by more striking figures from his life, Souta is content with being the narrator of this story, or so he says. Though I think him saying that just shows a certain lack of confidence. As Mirokuji hints, the characters that were chosen and brought over by Military Uniform Princess leave lasting impressions. He was probably speaking in general terms, but he’s right, the characters are cool and leave an impression on people. On ordinary high schoolers. Perhaps even on a particular high school boy that happened to name each of them, off the top of his head, immediately after seeing them. I’m certain that by the end Souta will have learned that “the story that surpasses all stories” is none other than his own. Our own story.

State of Slovenian Fandom 2017

[I figured I’d write some thoughts on Makkon, but then my writing just sort of devolved into a rant on the sorry state of anime fandom in Slovenia. Below is the edited version of the initial attempt.]

I was running a panel on anime pilgrimages at Makkon 2016, the annual anime convention in Ljubljana running for the fifth year now. Here are a couple of slides from the presentation. I put a lot of hours into this one, but the response wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

I named my panel “Po stopinjah risanih romanc krog jezera Kizaki” (tl. Following the Footsteps of Animated Romances ’round Lake Kizaki). I thought it was clever, I thought it captured everything that I wanted to talk about. Big mistake! I should have just titled it “6 Places You Need to Visit While in Japan”, “Anime IRL”, or anything similarly stupid with enough baiting potential. I actually submitted a brief description of the talk to my handler before the event and said that the title alone would probably not be enough to capture people’s attention. I was right. In the end Makkon’s schedule didn’t include it, it wasn’t published on the event’s Facebook page etc. I sort of expected that to happen, but whatever.

The panel didn’t draw much of a crowd compared to last year’s. I accepted the 30 minutes that were offered to me, in retrospect it wasn’t enough to have a comfortable panel. The presenter before me didn’t prepare well enough and went over time, and so I put myself under even more pressure to finish my bit early. I do think the presentation itself went well, as I had a stern critic scrutinizing it during my practice runs. The response from the people that actually attended was so-so. Due to the aforementioned time constraints I couldn’t develop a conversation with them, something I wanted to do. As for the nature of the material, I knew of the pitfalls beforehand. Generally people don’t like listening to other people’s travelogues, they want to be experiencing those places themselves. I pessimistically assume this because I’m like that. It’s just that I’ve been a regular customer at a travel-themed bar for the past five years now which hosts travelogues throughout the year. Every time one took place, the house was packed. The sense of security I got was false.

To those of you that did come, thank you. Still, even though the panel was a passion project, I expected to see more interest. I would have been far more at ease had I seen people walk into the lecture hall just to see what was going on. Couldn’t even get that! The signaling here is that the local fandom simply doesn’t have an interest in more studious topics (seichi junrei is a big topic). That, coupled with the way things have been for the past three years, has filled me with disappointment and disgust over the casual nature of local fandom. Even though it has grown tremendously and more Slovenians are watching anime than ever before, there hasn’t been much fan activity in Slovenia outside these events. Now let me tell you why that’s bad and why I fear for the future of it all.

Obviously conventions are run by people. Some time ago I was reading about Uppcon, which used to be a Swedish anime convention hosted in Uppsala, growing at a tremendous rate, boasting attendance numbers of over 3000. This was a fan-run event, dozens of volunteers, it had its own convention culture. There was little reason to intentionally discontinue it after 2012, it had a steady stream of volunteers, and yet it did close its doors. The founders wanted to do other projects and didn’t want to deal with economics of scale, so decided to end it on a high note. In any case, fan projects end for one reason or another. People grow up and find other interests – that is the way of anime fans. In Slovenia it happened to Second Impact, it happened to AnimeSlovenija, in happened to SloDub, AnimeSeirei, and even SloAnime. And yet, there was always somebody else there to pick up the slack. Not any longer.

Even though there was a lot of infighting back in those days, our fandom was productive. Anime translations, fanzine and magazine articles, anime news websites, discussion forums. It. Was. Active. That Makkon had found success and that attendance is growing has blinded us from the fact that outside of these events there’s barely any public fan activity happening. Worse, all these events have had the same core staff for a number of years now, and that by now it’s safe to say they joined us oldfags.

Don’t think for a second that what happened to Uppcon can’t happen to Makkon! In a couple of years when current heads graduate and decide to maybe build their families and take on more responsibility, who is going to take over the helm? And I’m not just talking about Makkon here. We have a couple of events similar to Makkon spread across the year, but they have the same issues Makkon has. They represent a concentrated fan fix, and are currently ran by relatively old fans. Our generation was producing fan output in our teens, whereas I struggle to find any active fans anywhere near those years.

The situation could probably be worse, however it’s important to recognize that we had a relatively productive scene in the past, levels above today’s. For example, I only need one hand to count the number of active Slovenian fans who are highly knowledgeable about anime, manga, or fandom studies.

I encourage every Slovenian reading this rant to share it around and step up their game. People need to be aware what is (not) happening. I suggest that if you love something about anime or manga, find some time to do fan stuff and share it with others. Your knowledge, your fan works, take on new projects, display your passion. Publicly, not just behind closed doors or on foreign websites. Perhaps even (*gasp*) in Slovenian language. We have zombie forums that need activity. Joker’s ancient Japanka subforum,‘s Slovenian exchange, or maybe some other website outside walled gardens that are your online social networks. It’s great to see so many cosplayers at Makkon, and a few artists making a name for themselves, but aside from that this fandom doesn’t have much going for it. Please recognize this and act!

I’m doing my part. If you’re not doing yours and don’t feel like getting involved with the scene either, at least show your gratitude to event organizers that are doing all of this on their own dime and time. Believe me, it helps with motivation. But when that motivation fails us or old age takes us, someone else will have to take over. Start preparing for that day, or watch the local scene fall to even bigger ruin.

Yuri!!! On ICE and Model Dynamics

Yuri On Ice was one of those shows from the season that you simply couldn’t ignore, as it has become a runaway success in terms of social media engagement. I’m still stuck on the fourth episode, waiting to watch the rest as soon as the BD rips come out, but the fact it has become a mainstream, even global success, makes it hard to resist the temptation of analysing what it did right.

I’ve been using the word “model” on this blog quite generously this year, in various posts for various different domains. So it’s fitting (no pun intended) that I write today how Yuri On Ice consciously or unconsciously exploited concrete examples of models to gain itself the following that it has.

First of, there is the model city of Karatsu, which is used as inspiration for Yuuri’s hometown of Hasetsu. Using real-life locations as models for parts of anime fiction has become a common practice in anime production, already for a good part of the last decade. This approach has more upsides than downsides, but I’ve discussed them on here in sufficient capacity already.

The show also paid homage to various legendary figure skaters, their clothes and routines … Real people have been used for inspiration, to the point Yuuri has been quite aggressively equaled to Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyuu. We know what kind of fan would do such a thing, so we won’t discuss them. But I have a proposition here why this is going to continue happening.

Obviously some producers will try to copy the show’s success and come to the same conclusions that I have: own reality, and command attention. The usage of models, be them geographic locations or real people, will continue and only intensify in future productions. That various figure skaters have given the show so much attention and brought in their own fans might be allowed to be seen as a wonderful accident this time around. But when a producer makes plans for a future anime show in which he’ll try to replicate the same modeling trick from Yuri On Ice, then the practice falls under ethical scrutiny.

Previously I’ve shown you photos of my trip to Lake Kizaki, which was one model location for the Onegai! Twins TV series. The house of the protagonists does exist, but it is also private property. This begs the question whether the people living there deserve to have their thoughts on the matter ignored every time a fan takes a photo of their property without permission. The founder of P.A.Works defended their modeling practices from accusations of it inconveniencing neighborhoods, saying their shows are smart about it and avoid featuring locations with private housing. He characterized the fictional Bonbori Festival from Hanasaku Iroha – which was then turned into a real festival at the model location – as a gift to the locals. The problem I have with his argument is that the establishment of this festival dramatically changed the place. Even though the festival is of traditional sort, it is fake in every sense, but accepted because it provides financial opportunities to the locals.

Likewise both the anime medium and figure skaters themselves have more fans to gain from each others’ fandoms, but that doesn’t come without a price. Karice67, who has been a very fervent Yuri On Ice poster on Twitter, had one of her tweets go viral. It was a plea to fans saying they should make distinctions between being-model existences like Hanyuu-Yuuri.

I’m sympathetic, but also afraid that we’re getting more of this kind of approach to marketing sooner than we’d like, and the deviant behaviors stemming from it are going to be relativized and given blessing. Perhaps by figure skaters themselves. The thing to remember here is that fandom exchanges are not unfair trades – some anime fans get to learn about figure skating, and some figure skating fans get exposed to the wonderful world of Japanese animation.

The pretense here is that we’re not supposed to equate the real and fictional. It’s a disturbing step to make, but when it’s producers themselves who are encouraging it then I think it’s better to drop it. I’m willing to bet there’s already a show in the pipeline that’s going to take a closer look at another domain, like figure skating, that has lots of pretty boy (or girl) superstars ripe for model exploitation. These shows will be made for fans to compare models to fictional characters, to then have the option to inconvenience them in real life.

Here’s hoping 2017 does less tourist anime and returns back to being actually creative instead of using models for everything.