In less than a week– this coming Wednesday, in fact– I’ll be working at Pittsburgh’s biggest anime convention, Tekkoshocon, as the video game room producer. I’ve taken the title “Tyrant” in a somewhat lighthearted manner, but really “producer” is more fitting to describe my role with the convention and the game room. Last year I was approached to “run” the game room, and ultimately this expanded into developing the room as an entity within itself under Tekkoshocon, to expand the scope of our operations so that we could bring in more attention to our core show. This rapidly became almost another full time job.
The thing is, though, it’s a full time job I actually enjoy doing. I’m a collector, by nature. I enjoy finding, organizing, and managing a big library of video games, and up until about 2010 or so it was only for my enjoyment. Now, I’m able to focus my efforts to the goal of ensuring that everyone has a good time and gets to play some games that maybe they haven’t seen before. This means curating some games I personally don’t like, and dealing with people who know a lot more about those games than I do.
I mentioned this a few years ago, but Matt Boyd wrote that video games are becoming the shared culture of our generation. Last week or so when Mass Effect 3 was released, so many people were discussing the game in social circles and in other aspects that it was, for me, a little difficult to get away from it. Discussion also turned to how people had played the previous two games; people shared and compared their decisions, tactics, likes and dislikes. I was really surprised by this, even though I know I shouldn’t have been.
It’s undeniable now that pop culture, no matter how vapid or intellectually shallow it can be, is still culture. As much as it pains me to admit it, twenty years from now people are going to be talking about Jersey Shore the same way my generation looks back at Beverly Hills, 90210– hopefully with faint disdain and the benefit of hindsight, but you never know. Movies, television, music, and games– these are all part of our culture, our shared experiences that are wound across the frame of time. Even solitary experiences can foster connections.
It takes a lot of different kinds of people to put together a big project. Some are very strong orators, others are meticulous planners, and still others have their strong suit in physical work. I’m not entirely sure where in that spectrum I fit just yet, but there are a great number of places where I do fit.
The thing is, though, it doesn’t matter how well your core competences are covered across your organization if the people involved do not share one particular trait without exception: passion. Every member of the group must, to the last one, be so committed to the project’s success that they would be willing to sacrifice every last ounce of enjoyment they get out of the project in order to ensure its successful completion. Passion is defined, in its purest sense, as the triumph of sentience over circumstance: the willingness to accept temporary pain to assure long-term success. Without passion, the slightest setback kills the whole thing.
There is a drawback to having passionate people on a task, though, and that is the fact that sufficient passion can cause a blurring between the work and the self. When genuinely constructive criticism is offered, someone overly invested in the project can take that as a personal attack. That creates friction that reduces the cohesion of the group, accelerating failure. Emotional investment is good, don’t get me wrong. But emotional OVERinvestment is irresponsibly malignant and inevitably fatal, just as surely as underinvestment does.
It can be very hard to draw the line as to where people are in over their depth. Everyone’s capability for responsible passion is different, after all, and it’s not like you can just pull out your personal character sheet and see you put X number of points in “emotional control”. But when that line is crossed– either intentionally or unintentionally– that’s when things start to get out of control.
I am immeasurably lucky, pleased, and blessed to work with a group of people who are extremely emotionally invested in our volunteer project. They are a constant reminder to me that people are still capable of creating great works of light in the darkness, and on more than one occasion they have been the light that I needed in order to keep going. Whether they know it or not, they are.
The troubles we’re having aren’t insurmountable. In all honesty, they’re rather trivial; they’re nothing we haven’t overcome before. But they look so incredibly huge because we’re so close to them. At times like this, you need to pull back, get your bearings straight, and reapproach the problem with a clear focus and a sharp mind.
……..I’m sure that those of you who know me closely can appreciate the abyss of irony that is involved in my making a speech like that.
So, I went to see The Secret World of Arrietty this evening with friends. It’s almost a stereotypical Ghibli movie, which is to say that if you hate certain aspects of how that studio prefers to tell stories, you’re probably not going to find a whole lot to love here. Moreover, it takes a remarkably different approach to the source material than the mid-to-late 90′s Hollywood adaptation of The Borrowers did, and if you were a fan of that particular one, again, you’re probably not going to be terribly happy with this either. However, it was a pleasant enough film, and Carol Burnett’s performance as Hara pretty much steals the show.
Insert half-hearted apology for being busy here. Enough debasement, let’s get to the shows:
Slayers Try: (TV Tokyo 1997, Central Park Media 2001/Funimation 2008)
I’d heard that this third season of the venerable show had some issues, but so far the show is delivering on both the comedy and the action fronts. The plot this time around revolves around a heretofore unmentioned barrier being lifted from around the region that the past two seasons were set in, allowing access to the rest of the world by boat. Phil naturally decides that an expedition is in order. Meanwhile, Lina and Gourry meet up with the mysterious dragonkin Filia. Basically, it’s your usual barely-restrained madness that will ultimately coalesce into an engaging story around Episode 18. Maybe later.
Haibane Renmei: (Radix 2002, Pioneer 2003)
Standing in sharp contrast to Slayers is this show. Women with strange wings and halos are usually a sign of good fortune, but in the case of Reki and Rakka, I’m beginning to think they’re no angels. The setting reminds me a lot of Angel Beats, but whether or not that’s due to having had a bit of the backstory spoiled for me a long time ago is unclear yet; I’d be willing to bet that Haibane Renmei handles it with far more subtlety, if it’s going where I think it is. The problem is, though, where I think it’s going includes the words “downhill” and “fast”.
xxxHolic: (Production IG 2006, Funimation 2008)
This series isn’t unknown to me– it’s linked to its CLAMP-mate Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, and I managed to catch its theatrical side story at Tekko a few years ago. I have to admit to not having read up that much on it, tho– HOLY CRAP, THEY ARE NOODLE PEOPLE. Okay, seriously, this is CLAMP basically taking the piss with their stereotypical lanky character designs… Previous works aren’t nearly this pasta-like. Yuuko is a magnificent trickster, and seeing her yank Watanuki around really makes up for the incredibly jarring character designs. I’m also impressed that the first episode didn’t tie into Tsubasa. This has some promise.
Squid Girl: (Diomedea 2010, Media Blasters 2011)
I pretty much hit the nail on the head when I said this was Sgt. Frog played only slightly less ludicrously. But only just slightly. And with dramatically less rampant sexism. The subtitles are riddled with ocean puns that not even I would touch, and the English voices are similarly awful. Also Squid Girl herself is as dumb as a box of rocks. But ultimately it’s still charming, silly, and well-played. Being in the three-short format helps it out a lot, as it can grate after a while. Going to have to take this in small doses, though the ink gag is probably not going to get old for a while.
Shattered Angels (Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora): (AT-X 2007, Funimation 2008)
I honestly couldn’t tell you why I picked this one up. Maybe because it looked a little like Escaflowne on the cover, but it started out like a knockoff of an Esca high school universe fan fiction. It’s hard to get over the very generic character designs… Especially because, honestly, I get the feeling I’ve seen everyone in the school in another series before. Around the time the phrase “it’s a miracle of love!!” came up, I started to realize that literally everything in this series is recycled from somewhere else. That includes my reaction to it, recycled from Strike Witches: no. Just no.
So, to sum up, it turns out my brain had a violent revolt against two of the series I’d bought before, four of them were duds, and the last four captured my interest rather well. Not a bad catch. Thursday I’m planning on some extra credit– I’ll be going over five series that I started long ago, but dropped off of. Once we’re done there, I’m thinking I may go back and see about Slayers or GaoGaiGar. Later, folks.
So apparently I did get occupied on Friday and Saturday night, and unfortunately it caught up to me today. I’ll continue the Rush to Judgment posts on Monday.
For the record, “hi no saiketsu” should mean “Judgment Day”, but I may have the wrong noun there at the end. Anyway, here we are– let’s get this trainwreck a-rollin’.
Key, The Metal Idol: (Studio Pierrot, 1994-1997; Viz Video/Pioneer, 2000)
Ah, nothing like a cryptic conspiracy to start things off. Despite being an early dub, the work is remarkably smooth, without a lot of the common problems that plagued releases of that sort. The only real technical problem is that the DVDs aren’t in anamorphic widescreen– they’re locked to 4:3 with reverse-letterboxing. Key herself is remarkably flat as a character, and most of what she does is just reacting to the circumstances around her. Fortunately, the show makes a distinction between “naive” and “too stupid to live” in her case, though she straddles that line. The bigger problem is that this style of show makes it really, really difficult to get a bead on things after just one episode. Its job was to get people to want to watch more, and in that regard, it’s succeeded… but it’s not terribly strong after just the one.
Revolutionary Girl Utena: (J.C. Staff, 1997; Nozomi Entertainment, 2011)
From what I can tell, this is a series entirely about getting more than you bargained for, and whether or not that’s exactly a good thing. Again, like Key, it’s locked to 4:3, but that’s again excusable considering the age of the show. However, Utena’s cast characterization is far stronger in this first episode than Key’s was, making the show immediately more interesting. I read a few spoilers here and there already, but not much could prepare me for the fact that there’s more here going on than is apparent on the surface. I have to wonder, though, about a school that could be so cavalier as to ignore gender differences in both the dress code and the sports teams… and about a heroine who plays basketball. Really, Utena has more class than to play basketball; she strikes me more as a rugby kind of girl.
Strike Witches: (Gonzo, 2007; Funimation, 2010)
I understand that the first episode usually means “give the people what they want”, but…. No. Just no. Not interested.
Nerima Daikon Brothers: (Aniplex, 2006; ADV, 2008)
The show has the subtitle “The Freshly Grated Musical”, but from the opening theme, “grating” is more like it. I can’t fathom what possessed ADV to continually cast people who can’t sing in musical roles. On the plus side, at least nobody here has any inclination to take this show seriously. Including me. And apparently this was made after Chris Patton decided to give up voice acting, ’cause he sure as hell ain’t doing it here. I can’t be entirely certain how much of this insanity is ADV’s fault, because at the bottom of this is Shinichi Watanabe. I’ll at least give it credit for not going for the panty-shot madness of Strike Witches.
GaoGaiGar: (Sunrise, 1997; Media Blasters, 2008)
If Evangelion was a deconstruction of the kind of old-school giant robot show I watched when I was very, very little, then GaoGaiGar is a loving restoration of that kind of show. It may be that having watched through most of a recent Super Sentai series (Gokaiger) has given me a renewed appreciation for the tropes that GGG relies entirely on, but there’s a real sense of honesty in how hard they’re playing literally every aspect of them. In terms of plot, it’s your bog-standard “alien invaders want Earth for nebulously defined reasons, and a secret organization is working to protect us”, but again, when your cover is blown, you play it all the harder to get by. GGG is shameless, unabashed, unafraid… and completely awesome for it.
That’s it for today; three winners so far, one dud, and one thing to cash in at The Exchange. Tomorrow’s set should be less varied, with pretty much all of them coming highly recommended.
So, today seems to be rather more open than I had initially anticipated. I’m not surprised, of course, but it does leave me in the interesting position of not really having that much direction for the evening and weekend. I do have some plans, though.
Before that, I should probably mention that I finally got around to seeing How To Train Your Dragon last night. It’s a gorgeous movie, and extremely well-paced. I had some serious issues with the voice acting– seriously, why does every Viking sound Scottish? Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson are great actors, but c’mon, there’s a freaking limit. And I have to wonder why Hiccup sounded like he was thirty-seven. But, in truth, all that was forgiveable by the fact that it was just so wonderfully written for the most part. The progress of Hiccup and Toothless’ friendship never feels forced and never feels one-sided; you can see that they’re genuine friends by the end of the film. The rest of the village children… not so much; Astrid in particular does a personality-180 at such dizzying speed that it completely wrecked her character. Still, the final battle was suitably impressive, and its resolution a nice change of pace from most other kids’ fantasy these days. I’d heard rumblings that there was to be a spinoff television series and possibly more movies, both moves I’d greatly support.
Speaking of well-written children’s fantasy, apparently Season 2 of Wakfu is also well underway. So that’s good. It’s appalling to me that there’s been no talk of a North American localization for the series, even as Square Enix is handling the MMO. Appalling, I tell you.
Anyway. Last April, after Tekkoshocon was over, I took on what I called the “Rush to Judgment”– a pair of posts where I went through a dozen anime series’ first episodes, and wrote down first impressions. This was the second Rush– the first one had been for video games, which unfortunately didn’t work out so well. Anyway, this weekend I’ll be doing a new Rush with ten series I haven’t seen the full first episodes of. It’s worth noting that, of the twelve I watched last year, I only got through three full series (Baccano!, Slayers Next, and Ah! My Goddess Season 2), so a 25% rate isn’t that bad.
The list for this year is as follows:
Day One: Key The Metal Idol, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Strike Witches, Nerima Daikon Brothers, Gao Gai Gar
Day Two: Slayers Try, Haibane Renmei, xxxHolic, Squid Girl, Shattered Angels
The posts should be up on Saturday and Sunday; I’ll likely be liveblogging them, so if you catch the first RSS feed update, be sure to come back later in the day.
Next, I set out my list of games that I was going to try to get through during 2012. I’m shooting for a goal of 40 Clears again, and I hope to get through one or more of them before the Tekkoshocon Flyer Rally on the 14th. I’ve also set up ten additional “Extra Credit” games. The thing is, fully 25 of the total games on the list are long-form RPGs or SRPGs, so I’m not entirely sure how I’ll manage to get even half of the number of expected clears. I have a backup, though, what I’m calling the “Trump Card”: Demon’s Souls. If I manage to complete that nightmare of a game, I’ll call the year an unqualified success. But first, though, I’m starting to get deeper into the new Professor Layton title.
As an addendum: there’s someone in my apartment complex with a 3DS as well. The only reason I know this is because I managed to get a StreetPass tag from this person when I left my machine at home in the charging cradle. This is a remarkable coincidence, I think. I kind of wonder if I know this person… probably not.
Finally, in addition to the nerdery nonfiction writing, I’m also going to take some time to revise some of my older fiction outlines in order to prep them for eventual rewriting. I took a look back at the very first NaNo I attempted to write, a fantasy story, and found that, while it was flawed, it was still salvageable; I just need to think back about some of the ideas that I’ve had in the meantime and see which are worth welding onto the original plot, and to see what bits that I patched on are no longer necessary. I also want to take another stab at fleshing out the sci-fi universe I was working on, and seeing if it should or already does fit in with the universe set forth in “A Civics Lesson” and “Frangible Time”. Actually, writing that last chapter of “Frangible Time” might be worth doing, too– likely in February.
Anyway, that’s the plan for this weekend. Things are going to get very busy very fast with regards to the rest of my activities, so this may be one of the last few weekends I get to myself before Tekko prep causes all hell to break loose. I intend to enjoy it.
On Monday, Bandai Entertainment announced that they were closing up shop in North America, leaving Funimation and Sentai/not-ADV as the last two “major” anime localizers left, with Viz and Nozomi/Right Stuf as niches to pick up the leftovers. Ordinarily this would be a very bad sign, and to a degree it isn’t exactly the best start to 2012 for aficionados of the medium. Bandai has been one of the biggest pushers of series in a long time, and they managed a couple of major coups– but even that came back to bite them in the ass.
I suspect they bet a lot of money on the Haruhi Suzumiya series and, well, when Endless Eight happened, ain’t nobody was happy about it. Couple that with the fact that Kadokawa started working on their own directly in the NA market, and diminishing returns on their bread and butter Gundam series, and you get the picture… But there’s another side to it that’s going to hurt the industry a LOT more.
See, Bandai was one of the last of the major distributors to still hold to the “individual disc” release model long after it had proven completely non-viable in today’s market. Gundam 00 sales suffered because it was an individual disc release, and people waited for the season sets– which, fortunately, are still coming. North America is pretty unreceptive to anything but half-season or full-season sets these days, and as a result if it’s not in that format initially, it’s not gonna sell. K-On is another great example of this: amazingly popular series within the fandom, I’ve been reading the manga as it comes out… Haven’t touched the disc releases beyond the first two because they’re too damn expensive. Probably going to ditch those in favor of a season set. I’m not the only one.
There’s also the matter of the “fad” being over… I don’t think it ever really was a fad, inasmuch as there was just a floodgate of opportunity for good stories to be released to a wider market, and now there’s not as much that’s nearly as compelling. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There are still great series coming out here and there: I loved Angel Beats, I can’t wait for Horou Musukou, and the Persona 4 series will have a special place in my heart. But there’s also a lot of crap. Worse, some of the good stuff isn’t getting as much interest as it should. You get that in every medium, and the “fad” was just the rest of the world catching up.
Is it really so bad for anime to be a niche market? I don’t think so. I think it works out better this way. Sure, it’s a little more frustrating when you don’t know if a title is going to be localized, but the smaller market means companies have to go the extra mile in order to earn the sales. Now, anime isn’t just competing against itself– it’s competing against domestic television and other media. Most fans already have what they want to see from the “anime” spectrum; if they can’t find a boxed set they like, they wander over to the next section of the store (or, more likely, run a search for a different product). This isn’t a time when fans can take a chance on a new series and not feel cheated if or when it sucks.
It pains me to see the market shrink and to see the fandom start to crumble like this, and not just for the fact that I wanted to see Turn A Gundam. But it’s not dead yet, and with a little bit of care, it can be saved and put into a self-sustaining state. Let’s hope the new year brings to the companies that have that power the insight needed to pull it off.
So, I know this is a little short notice, but one of the things I’m doing this weekend is helping out with the Kurokiiro Maid Cafe’s Child’s Play Gaming Marathon. Basically, starting in less than four hours, you can watch cute maids play video games for 25 hours straight, and if that sight moves you– which it should– we’d appreciate some donations to the annual charity fund.
And before anyone asks, no, I am not wearing a maid outfit. Yes, I know what that paragraph sounds like, but just trust me, petticoats aren’t my thing. Well, they are, just not wearing them. Not wearing them myself. This paragraph has just gone somewhere dark and horrible.
……y’know what, just go watch the maids, OK?
I put together my first Gundam model this afternoon, a GINN from the SeeD era. In doing so, I came to the conclusion that Games Workshop needs to step up their game in terms of making models easy to assemble and less hideous without paint. Seriously, it took me about an hour and a half to put the GINN together, and it looks perfectly ready for my work desk without a drop of paint on it. It’s also remarkably sturdy for being put together without any glue, and it’s pose able in ways I didn’t think would even be possible.
…..I think I’m hooked. Again. The only thing that could be better would be if there was an actual tabletop game based around Gundam models.