So I’ve managed to come down with my annual cold a little earlier this year. In order to accelerate the process of getting over it, I’ve taken the steps of taking medicine, sleeping off most of the worst of the fever, and watching through Hidamari Sketch x365. Because as we’ve previously established, little else heals as much as overpowering cuteness.
So I happened to catch Summer Wars‘ showing in Pittsburgh today, at the Harris Theater. On one level, I want everyone reading this to go see it if it happens to be in your town soon (and I mean that, Zeitlers and Duffys). On the other hand, don’t watch too much of that trailer on the site linked above. What it doesn’t spoil outright, it completely misrepresents. This is a complicated movie, so bear with me while I try to get it all down before I go into what I hope won’t be a Tim Rogers-esque stream-of-crapciousness steaming pile of paragraphs.
Okay, so the first thing that the movie is about is OZ: a virtual world, along the lines of our reality’s Second Life, which has permeated society to such a great degree that it has supplanted the bare-bones World Wide Web. Think what would have happened if computer technology jumped from command-line telnet and GOPHER straight to the Matrix, or the Metaverse, or The World. It’s still all just people sitting at terminals, but the implication is that the electronic realm is still just a communications tool: e-mail, teleconferencing, and other applications we’re using today, in our world, are in the movie’s world under the purview of OZ.
However, at first the fact that OZ exists is seemingly brushed aside in favor of a couple of high school students, Kenji and Natsuki. Kenji is a part-time telecommuter working for OZ administration, and is noted to be a talented mathematics student who just barely missed being able to represent the nation in a global competition. Natsuki convinces Kenji to accompany her to her family’s reunion in the countryside as July winds down to an end, initially not telling him that he’s to pose as her fiancee in front of the family’s matriarch, Sakae. Sakae’s 90th birthday is coming up as well, and the family is quietly afraid for her health. Well, about as quietly as about a zillion relatives can be. Sakae is Natsuki’s great-grandmother, and so the celebration is for the extended family. Of course, Sakae herself is sharp enough to see through Natsuki’s deception almost immediately.
What nobody counts on is the black sheep of the family, Wabisuke, returning after a ten-year stint abroad in the United States. Pittsburgh, in point of fact– he’s supposedly a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. (This got a lot of laughs and applause at the showing this afternoon.) Anyway, he’d been in the bad books of the family after selling off a plot of land to fund his education, then running off to the US. Moreover, Wabisuke is adopted, and not everyone in the family takes a kindly eye to it. Natsuki, of course, is infatuated with him, and in fact modeled Kenji’s cover story on him.
After a chaotic first night at the reunion, Kenji gets an odd e-mail on his phone: a string of numbers and the phrase “Solve Me”. It’s late and Kenji’s searching for some way to keep from feeling completely hopeless, so he solves the problem– a ciphertext puzzle along the lines of the “Squeamish Ossifrage” puzzle of yore– and goes back to bed.
And that’s when everything goes to hell.
Suffice it to say, everything is connected, and while it may just have been a coincidence that Kenji has arrived at the door of the Jinnouchi clan, he’s practically part of the family by the end of the story. But getting there involves the world almost ending.
Seriously. It’s better than I make it sound. Trust me.
Anyway, from a technical standpoint the movie is a glorious change of pace from even the most beautifully animated series of late, mostly due to MADHOUSE’s ability to use CG in an anime and not have it look horribly out of place, but in no small part to the use of the Superflat design aesthetic. Think Andy Warhol taking a critical eye to generic manga and anime, and deconstructing it by exaggerating its fakeness. Scenes set in OZ are completely unreal, both in their technical complexity and in the sheer whacked-out-there character designs. Even still, the avatars are animated fluidly and stay on-model, except to prove the point of how fake the world really is; most of the combat involving the Harvey-like rabbit-man King Kazma highlight this very well. Scenes set in the real world of Ueda and the environs are, on the other hand, amazingly well done. The human character designs are diverse, but with some familial similarities that make certain characters look a little too much alike (in more than one case I couldn’t tell Natsuki and an aunt of hers apart, even though I had made a mental note of one of the ‘hints’ in the design).
The story isn’t bad either, and that’s where I’m going to have to put an end to the “professionalist” portion of this post and start getting subjective. I mentioned up there that I hoped that my own extended family would see this movie, and it’s not just because I know they’re keeping an eye on the blog and that sort of thing. The scenes where the entire Jinnouchi family is sitting down to dinner are something that, if you happen to have a large extended family like we do, will seem so very familiar to you. Between the kids and the food, the conversation and the community… it’s very hard for me to describe just how much that can mean to someone. A line late in the film highlights this, but sadly it’s way too much of a spoiler to mention here. (Seriously, knowing it’s coming wrecks the entire film.) There are other elements to the movie that sort of echoed with what I know of “family”. You’ll see, I hope.
If there was any doubt that people can be affected by even the silliest, most inconsequential little bits of fluffed-up entertainment that we can find, this film would erase it. I didn’t find out until later, of course, that the director came to this project after doing The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which is another fantastic movie that I think everyone should watch at least once. It’s strange, thinking that even now we have to defend the artistic merits of a medium.
Which brings up another interesting point about media. Throughout the film, OZ isn’t referenced negatively or positively. It’s simply a fact of life by that point, like how we view the radio, or television, or movies. As a society, humanity doesn’t think that a television is an inherently evil thing. It took quite a while to get to that point, but the point is that the method of communication is a neutral thing. A voice on the radio commands no greater influence than a voice in person. If we can afford that level of acceptance to a select few media, what makes newer media– newer ways to share and convey information– so scary to society? What causes people to be so afraid of a computer, a video game, a text message?
In the end, Summer Wars is a fantastic movie that warrants a lot more attention than I think it’s going to get. The film never descends into melodramatics, and it remains cheekily self-aware even as the fate of the world rests on this peculiar yet not unknown to us family. If it made the art-house circuit a few more times, I would line up every time it came back here… then again, technology has caught up with us yet again, and the DVD is slated to be out in February. If it can’t make it to a screen near you, I highly recommend at least trying to grab the disc.
November was a very interesting month for me, not least of which because it was the first full one in the new place. It was also the first time that I was on the staff of an anime convention. And then I did it again a month later– this past weekend. In short, I’ve been busy.
But I’ll say this, never once did I feel like I wasn’t having fun during it.
Let’s start off with Kurokiiro Festival, which was November’s event. It was only the second year that the event was called Kurokiiro, and it was the first in a rather surprising venue: the Boyd Community Center. The BCC is a converted elementary school, which fit the theme we were going for this year: “school festival”. The idea all along was to have Kurokiiro be more of a cultural festival than an anime con, and as a result it was slightly different in terms of content. Instead of a ‘rave’ there was a formal dance. There was a hosted maid cafe. The video game room gave equal emphasis to CCGs and video games. I wish, though, that I could speak more to the panels and videos played, but I was holed up in the game room for the most part. Overall it went well, though the usual complaints happened: too small, not enough, [thing X] wasn’t there. I think, however, that next year I’d like to do a more ‘festival’ themed game room; maybe set up a game to work as a redemption game or something. I mean, it’s not like I can’t code something like that up, right?
The interval period, then, between Kurokiiro and Sangawa Project was spent working on making sure I had learned something from the whole experience of Kurokiiro and trying to make sure that the people who came to Sangawa’s game room were happy. One thing occurred to me as I was bundling up the systems for Kurokiiro: I don’t have a whole ton of multiplayer games. After I graduated from college the opportunity to play with others in the same room decreased dramatically; it wasn’t until I got back to Erie that I could again, and even then that was short-lived. So, when the Reclamation Project was in full swing, I didn’t emphasize multiplayer games all that much, in favor of rarer or more entertaining single-player stuff. Online games became a bit more my style, though, and while those are fun in their own way, they’re not conducive to playing them in a group setting. Well, not short of a LAN party or anything. Unfortunately, I had no idea where to start, and more to the point, moving had drained my reserves to a point where I was wary of spending too much money at one go. Anyway, I set that aside for the time being and tried to make sure that everything was in working order for Sangawa.
I suppose now’s a good a time as any to explain what exactly The Sangawa Project is and what it was intended to be. Its original description of being “an 18+ anime convention” is, sadly, quite misleading. When people start thinking in that sort of a direction, two things come to mind: porn and more porn. Sangawa was not like that at all, and though there was a bit of an uphill battle to emphasize that, I can reasonably say the message got through. What Sangawa was and is, though, is a bit harder to explain in a vacuum.
Anime conventions in general tend to have certain expectations placed on them. A convention is expected to have X, Y, and Z as draws to the attendees. What Sangawa does is turn a lot of those expectations on their heads and basically “reboot” the concept of an anime convention. Certain staples got retired, and certain new things were added. There was a lot more freedom in terms of programming content and stuff to do and see. Our guest, Dan Woren, was just plain awesome. The best part, though, and something that received a lot of commentary, was that Sangawa had a very different general atmosphere than Tekkoshocon or Kurokiiro. Whereas the ‘mainline’ conventions have a lot of the younger crowd around and the general mood is overeager excitement, Sangawa was very relaxed. This was Geek Night writ large, in katakana, on a window in front of a blue neon martini glass. Everyone had fun, nobody misbehaved, and it was just generally a great con. If this had been my first convention, and I went on to, say, Tekko or Otakon, I’d be in abject culture shock. It’s different, yeah, but not in terms of quality: if those other cons are Pepsi, Sangawa is Pepsi Throwback. Different ingredients, same general taste.
So how did Sangawa Project go? Of course, I’m not at liberty to divulge the specifics of the backroom stuff– nor am I really privy to that stuff either– but the general outcome is that it was a success. Not an overwhelming one, but a realistic one. That, I think, is also important to note. Despite the fact that it’s an offshoot of Tekkoshocon and it has its own tempo and style, the fact is that Sangawa was a first-time convention. Because of this, expectations were high. It was probably the benign thought not to over-promise that caused us to under-promote the event, but in all honesty that hurt us more than it would have if people were breaking down the doors to get at us. Still, that’s just my perspective from the enclave of the game room, and worse yet, it’s hindsight. Don’t read too much into it.
Anyway. Part of the end result of the Sangawa Project 2010 was the feeling of a job well done, in that I’m positive (and was told) that everyone had a very good time. It’s easy to forget that that’s why we do it, but there you go. I’m told that the feedback meeting was the most pleasant one that had been attended by the staff in years, and it’s not difficult for me to believe that. This was just such an incredible convention, and I;m really looking forward to doing it again in the summer– or rather, in the spring, when Tekko rolls around.
So that brings me to the end of the 2010 convention season. This year was a refreshing change for a lot of reasons, mostly because of the whole “staffing a con versus attending one” thing, but also because the season was unusually prolonged due to Sangawa’s presence. It’s no secret that I grew up in Western New York, near the infamously snowy city of Buffalo. (For those of you unfamiliar with American geography, let me put it to you this way: You know how in JRPGs there’s always at least one town situated in the frozen north of the map, where the entire village is covered in snow and everyone looks like they’re second cousin to Sasquatch? That’s Buffalo.) Because of that, I tend not to travel too much during the winter. For me, “con season” is the time of year starting with Tekkoshocon in the spring and ending with Kurokiiro Festival in the fall. In years past that just meant Otakon, but lately I’ve had the freedom to travel to a few other conventions or venues here and there. Oh, sure, I know there are other conventions close by during the chill months, but honestly, I love winter too much to spend it indoors. (That’s a story for another post, I think.)
In the past, after a convention, I’ve felt a profound feeling of peace that gradually gives way to a sort of temporary despondency. It doesn’t last more than a day or two, really, and usually by the weekend following my return home I’m back to my normal self. But this year, I haven’t felt that downer. It’s not something I would hang the word “weird” on, but it certainly is unusual. After the conventions of 2010– all of them– I only felt the continued excitement that led to a resolve to make the next con even better. As it turns out, both of these desires are the result of the so-called Hedonistic Treadmill. Basically, after an emotional or psychological high, the brain becomes accustomed to that level of stimulation. Therefore, the next high has to be even greater in order to experience the same amount of joy. Whereas before, I was simply a passive participant and was therefore expecting that greater high to be provided to me, now I’m actively working to make that high even higher: not just for me, but for everyone around me as well.
2010 was a good year for anime conventions, I think; the troubles at Otakon didn’t really do all that much to diminish the enjoyment I felt at being with friends and fellow nerds. So here’s to 2011, and all that it brings. I promise you, it is not to be missed.
(PS: As for the collection’s deficiencies, I managed to snag a list of all the games that were provided for the game room at Sangawa. Say goodbye to the Reclamation Project, and say hello to… the Gamerdex.)
So I’m all settled in and ready to get the Kurokiiro Festival underway. As such, we’re going to be a little quiet here on the blog. You could say that the blog is playing The Quiet Game so that I can play several dozen other, rather louder games.
Of course, that would be silly, but you could say it.
So, in lieu of sticking to a coherent theme or narrative structure tonight, I’ll just run down some of what’s on my mind.
First, Kurokiiro Festival is coming up, and as I’m helping to staff the Video Game Room this year (read: The Collection serves one of its intended purposes), I needed to double-check some things. The big one was getting a replacement A/V cable for the Dreamcast. Shortly after I’d picked up Twinkle Star Sprites at Otakon, I accidentally ripped the old, flimsy A/V cable out of its socket. Anyway, I’d forgotten about that incident during the move, and when it came time to unbox the retros and get them ready for transport to the festival, I found that little hiccup. Anyway, I ordered a new cable on Saturday from eStarland, a place that Slipgate had recommended on many an occasion. I have no reason to doubt him further, as the cable arrived today, and for the money it’s perfect. It’s an S-Video cable as well, meaning a somewhat nicer picture (and it looks incredible on the big screen TV). So I got my Twinkle on, then set it aside.
Next, in terms of anime, since I’ll be doing things that are not watching anime at the festival, I’ve been trying to get caught up a little more on some series that I’ve had on the stack. I mentioned to some friends that the current DVD set in the player is Slayers Next; this evening I reached the halfway point of the series. It still astonishes me to note the level of progress we’ve seen in made-for-TV animation in just fifteen years, after an equal period of stagnation. Anyway, Slayers Next is a hell of a lo of fun, even when the series is deliberately trying not to be funny. Incidentally, I can see (and hear) exactly why everyone was so happy to hear that Xellos’ voice changed in the dub for the new seasons (I’m on the English track because, quality or not, I can’t associate Lina’s character with any voice but Lisa Ortiz’s for some reason). He’s the most flaming not-really-bothering-to-hide-that-he’s-evil character ever.
Games… well, I ran across a couple of really good deals lately, including my third-ever Super Famicom cartridge. It’s bizarre that a city so far removed from any kind of an anime mecca could manage to be where I’ve collected two out of my three SF games (the third was Seiken 3, picked up at Otakon this past year). Anyway, straying from the beaten path has brought me a decent share of deals, including a game that, just going by its release date and meager print run, I should never have even seen (You Don’t Know Jack Mock 2). If this keeps up I may have to start a second row of PS1 discs. Which reminds me, as soon as I get a shelf or chest of drawers for the retros and the portables, I need to snap a photo of The Collection so you fine folks can see the glory of its new configuration.
As for yesterday’s post– yeah, the back pain is mostly due to my nocturnal contortionism, but the scientific process cannot be denied.
Finally, as it turns out, I picked up a cookbook that I wish I would have found three years ago. It’s entitled “Okay, So Now You’re A Vegetarian” and it details just what each of those scary-sounding things in the meatless section of the Market District really are, and how to use them effectively. With that in mind, I have a new mission: vegetarian gyudon (“beef bowl”), using seitan, sweet onions, and a few other ingredients. I’m sure it can be done; the question is: how? Actually, a better question is: how many fire extinguishers should I have on hand?
Today was simultaneously busy and relaxing. I knocked off two short story-mode clears this morning while waiting for a couple of phone calls, and handled a few minor little housekeeping things. Key among them, or at the very least key among them for our purposes, was finally getting around to modding my SNES to enable import games to be played without trouble. For those of you keeping score, this meant using the diagonal cutters to cut out two itty-bitty tabs on the machine. That’s it. The reason I did this was because I now own a copy of Seiken Densetsu 3 that I wanted to give a quick run through, with the ultimate result being that it works and I still have no idea what’s going on. But at least I’ll be able to snag a translated version somewhere and give that a play through without feeling guilty or violating my personal ethics. (This code of ethics is the same thing preventing me from really going through Mother 3, honestly, until I can grab a physical cartridge.)
On the recommendation of Kat and Andrew during the con, I’ve also started watching through Gakuen Alice. The short description of this series is “What if the Japanese had come up with the idea for X-Men, but decided not to play it in the slightest bit seriously?” Overall I’m really digging it, but I wish it would start coming to some semblance of a plot soon. It’s got some undercurrents that are showing through here and there but the characters aren’t strong enough after five episodes to really hold up that sort of minimalistic storytelling. Though I will admit that Hotaru’s “Idiot Gun” and “Idiot Cannon” are hilarious and I hope they’re not just one-episode gags.
Even though this year I spent the least amount of time at the convention out of any that I’ve attended, I still think it was a) worth the registration and b) a good time. I’m probably going to register next year as well, particularly because the location we’ve staked out makes travel between the con and the room a lot easier, and therefore ducking out for loot drops or quick breaks becomes a much more appealing option. I’ve also always come back from cons feeling exhausted but really, really happy. This year is no exception, on either front.
Catch you folks tomorrow.
I’m back from Otakon, and while it was a very fun experience, it was truncated due to the jackass who set off the fire alarm during the middle of Saturday– as in, the time when the con is usually in full swing. Oh, and it probably completely disrupted one of the highlights to the con (the Hetalia premiere).
I’m also ridiculously exhausted right now, so I’ll spare you the details until later. But let’s just say that it’s a good thing I don’t eat meat anymore or else Fail Pig would have been bacon. Oh wait– he was, AND IT STILL DIDN’T HELP ARGH
This week has seen a few game announcements of note, and a few anime announcements. Only natural, because Comic-Con International is going on over on the West Coast. Among the anime announcements have been Tales of the Abyss, which is good as I’ve been meaning to find an excuse to play the game (or in this case, not play the game– 13 hours of anime versus 40+ hours of game for the same story is not a difficult decision to make). But the real gem has been one and a half game announcements.
Capcom shed a little more light on the enigmatic Mega Man Universe, which had been revealed in a rather well-done teaser trailer a week or so ago. According to the revelations, Universe is meant to let each player play as their idealized version of Mega Man– a tricky feat given that good ol’ Rock has been incarnated in many varied forms in his twenty-three year history. (Wow, can you believe it’s almost time for the silver anniversary of Mega Man?!) Capcom seems to be going all-out with this one, even including the godawful version of Mega Man from the US box cover. This is fanservice of the highest degree, and quite frankly, I couldn’t be happier about it.
Except that, in almost the same breath, rumors of a for-real announcement of Mega Man Legends 3 were rekindled after the question was met with the Capcom rep throwing foam Mega Buster arms into the crowd and simply saying, “Thank you.” And as much as I want to believe in the rumors, I have to retain more than a modicum of disbelief.
There’s this thing I don’t do. It’s called ‘tempting fate’. It’s because of this other thing that I have, called ‘historically rotten luck’. And the reason I don’t do it in this case specifically is because of a thing I like to call ‘I really really want MM Legends 3 to come out and will do unspeakable things to anything that jinxes that chance, myself included and in particular’.