Alternate Title Suggestions:School With Goats, Azumanga Daioh -1, Desperate Attention Ploy Theater
I’m going to be a rebel and not title these Spring 2011 anime posts “First Impressions”, firstly because everyone else does it, secondly because I may not be getting to some of these until they’re several episodes in, taking away from the idea of it being an impression of the beginning.
After being too busy to recap/review much anime lately, this season I decided to at least to try all the spring simulcasts on Crunchyroll, plus another select few. The only show being recapped here on an episode-by-episode basis is X-Men, because apparently, I hate myself, but maybe that will change.
Summary: I can’t decide if the problem is that these really aren’t the characters I know, or if it’s just oddly written for a first episode, but something is definitely off with this anime adaptation of my favorite superheroes; so far, Beast is the only redeeming feature.
I don’t know about this most recent X-Men adaptation, I just don’t know- is it boring to me because I’ve been an X-Men fan for a long time, and I’ve seen all of this already? Or is it just boring because it’s boring?
Summary: This week’s episode had two distinct themes: traditional Japanese culture (as opposed to the more typical pop culture), and Dom getting the snot beat out of her repeatedly. Surprisingly, both were quite good.
Now that we’re past the halfway point, how is this show being received, anyway? I don’t see much talk about it online (other than the quasi-pathetic group that cropped up when the show started to say that it was not cool enough for them, for they must be so, so cool), yet according to analytics, a lot of the visitors to Otakusphere seem to come here looking for more about this show. Also, I do tend to avoid the corners of the internet where the comments would annoy the hell out of me, which is 99% of the internet, so I really don’t know what’s going on anyway.
Not content with merely deconstructing (by which I mean, ripping the guts out of) its own genre, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is sort of deconstructing the culture that has grown up around anime fansubbing as well.
For those that know about Otakusphere but somehow don’t yet know about Madoka (a group that probably contains all of two people, but hey, I aim to please), fansub groups have been keeping the Japanese commercials for the beverage “Morning Rescue” in their cuts of the popular dark magical girl show, and the commercial has become internet-popular. Due to demand for the actual product, Jlist (and possibly other retailers I’m not aware of) have started carrying the drink for people outside of Japan to order. I don’t know the numbers, but Peter (owner of Jlist) has tweeted that the drink is selling well.
Fansubs of unlicensed shows are considered more or less morally neutral; while digitally downloadable versions of licensed shows can be considered theft (and let’s just leave it at that, without getting into the whole piracy/theft/copyright infringement definition quagmire), downloads of unlicensed shows don’t really do anything; you’re seeing something that isn’t meant for you, since you won’t be viewing the advertising the way the targeted market will (or have access to the product even if you do see the advertising), but you aren’t finding a sneaky way around an actual purchase, either, because there’s no actual product available for you to buy.
However, when fansubbers start leaving in commercials, and those commercials lead to actual sales of the Japanese products that companies paid the TV station to advertise, doesn’t that end up becoming a net positive?
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean it’s a net positive in financial terms. For every one person who orders a bottle of Morning Rescue from Jlist after watching a fansub of Madoka Magica, there are probably about a thousand people who will just watch it and do nothing- not enough to make the company that makes the drink a lot of money.
Still, you have to wonder; if the world has become flat enough, thanks to global retailing and shared interest in different subcultures, that the commercial is creating the same desire for a product that it was meant to inspire in the targeted audience, doesn’t the once-lowly fansub watcher therefore become part of the targeted audience? From Morning Rescue’s perspective, they don’t care if Madoka fans live in Japan or China or Timbuctoo; they want people to watch the show, see their commercial, and buy their product. If someone in the U.S. orders a case of Morning Rescue based on the commercials they saw in a legally “gray” fansub, are they any less valid as part of the target audience than a person in Tokyo who bought one? It’s still advertising dollars well spent.
I haven’t been covering Madoka Magica on a regular basis, mostly because my recaps of individual episodes would end up being a .WAV file featuring the sound of my jaw hitting the floor continuously. But I think the Morning Rescue phenomenon that spawned from the Madoka fansubs has really interesting implications for the future of digital anime distribution, legal and otherwise- I mean, I’m not sure what they ARE yet, but they’re certainly interesting.
Smiling Stephan +ridiculously huge plush Miku= Good Episode.
With episode #4, Tokyopop’s quest to get me to consume more sushi continues to pick up momentum. Seriously, that seems to be the underlying goal here, because after each episode I may not feel particularly keen on buying any Tokyopop products, but man do I want some sushi.
This episode had what could have potentially featured the most interesting challenge yet- finding a mentor to teach you an otaku-related skill- but it was kind of rendered moot by the fact that only one member of one team (Dom) actually participated. Now, I would call out the other teams for not doing the challenge, but it’s hard to tell how much time anyone had from the way it’s edited; I get the impression they may have been seriously pressed for time in Oklahoma City and Nashville to make more time for Otakon and New York later on, in which case I can’t really blame them (yeah, I’m biased towards the east coast, not gonna lie.)
Hey look, it’s Deb Aoki! I want to be like Deb when I grow up; that is all.
However, bonus points to Dre of some variety for pointing out to Stu Levy that Team Mangaloids were perhaps better equipped to tackle their challenge at San Diego Comic Con versus his team in Oklahoma. However, I don’t blame the show for this; it seems to be a reality show staple to stack the deck really unfairly like that. Remember that episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts where they took all the chocolate out of the kitchen, and the one guy who wasn’t planning on using chocolate in his dish anyway was just like “Screw y’all!” No? I have to find other humans who have actually watched that show.
Viewing SDCC was probably the most interesting part of the episode, in part because you could actually SEE it; New York Comic Con/Anime Festival was so packed this year, all you could see when you looked straight ahead was the freckles of the several people invading your personal space in front of you. If SDCC was as nicely un-crowded as it looked from this episode, I’m seriously jealous of west-coast con-goers right now, because I feel like the ridiculous crowding ruins the NY conventions for me.
As an added bonus, I finally learned how to pronounce “Wacom” from this episode- I’ve been saying “Way-com” for like, ten years now. And, my god, do I want that tablet…..
The other interesting part of this episode was meeting AGO contender Selene’s entire otaku family, complete in cosplay with anime wall-hangings galore. I’m slightly disappointed we didn’t find out more about the parents, however; are they really otaku as well, or do they just play along to make their kids happy? In a way, wouldn’t they be the most awesome parents ever if they cosplayed as Bleach characters for the sake of familial harmony even if they’ve never seen Bleach?
I really have nothing to add to this picture. That’s just…wow. A contender indeed.
On the next episode, the group goes to Otakon 2010, so I’ll probably spend the entire episode looking for a glimpse of myself in the background because I was actually there, plus Washington D.C. (whatever) and New York (yaaay!). Now, Team D&D may be my favorites, but if Diana and Dre can’t find anything suitably otaku-ish to do in NY, there will be words.
I’m getting sushi tonight, I don’t care what anyone else says. Even if they’re all like “Oh, we’re going to Outback, you can get a Bloomin’ Onion for your main course if you like,” I’ll stand my ground, because that’s how badly I want sushi right now- Bloomin’ Onion badly.
I wasn’t going to say anything about the situation in Japan on this blog because I’m not sure I feel it’s my place to tell people that they should go donate to the relief efforts, which is pretty much all I can do. However, what Daniella Orihuela Gruber is doing with Anime and Manga Bloggers For Japan over at All About Manga immediately made sense to me. Obviously, I owe Japan some of my happiness, and I’m glad that Daniella put together a framework for me to donate that just felt right. I would have donated anyway, but to tell you the truth, just sending off a random amount of money to a relief organization has always felt a little strange to me.
One thing I’ve learned from Twitter over the past few days is that natural disasters seem to spawn lots of highly random pro-Japan fanart on the internet, so I figured I might as well partake of some of that while in a drawin’ mood. Now, anyone can show you pink, frilly little Madoka cheering on Japan, but honestly, how many cheerful Homuras have you seen? Actually, thinking about the kind of Puella Magi Madoka Magica art that is now available on the internet in spades, I probably don’t want to know the answer to that.
That’s about all, I just wanted to help get the word out about this nifty little fundraiser that came around at just the right time for me- consider giving if you haven’t already.
In which we learn that Japanese dolls are pieces of art, and American dolls are just “Meant to be played with.” Um, it’s rare that I get to say this, but if that’s the case, then I’m on Team America here.
This week’s episode was kind of let down after the actually-quite-good cosplay romp that was last week’s, but still watchable enough. The main problem was that the competitive eating contest didn’t seem to have much to do with being an otaku, or the theme of “Personality” either, really. Yeah, there’s that one famous hot-dog eating Japanese guy who’s way more attractive than anyone who shoves hotdogs in his face for a living has any right to be, but I don’t see eating contests as being a big part of otaku culture- am I wrong here? Plus, eating contests just look kind of gross in my opinion.
I do however like the trend of Dre and Diana winning hands down while Team S&S does unbelievably badly at everything, despite the fact that Stephan seems to be the most intelligent co-host; I guess being smart doesn’t help much when your quest is to imbibe lots of ramen and frozen yogurt (?) at a rapid pace. I guess the winning team doesn’t actually win anything, since this was the second time the same team won the weekly challenge but there was no mention of a prize.
I would have taken Professor Brau’s class.
Once again, the show is elevated by the guests, who are a batch of interesting folk who probably wouldn’t get a chance to star on an internet TV show if AGO never came to be. The contestants weren’t as memorable to me this week as last week (which is no insult to them personally; I just didn’t think they made strong cases for being the ‘greatest’ otaku, as opposed to several previous contestants), but the guests from academia and business were interesting.
Actually, the people at the Kansas City Art Institute didn’t say anything terribly interesting, I just know I would have killed for a kids’ manga-drawing class like that when I was that age. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it, back in the day we needed to walk fifteen miles in the snowpocalypse to get the lastest derivative How to Draw Manga book, etc. etc…..
Does anybody have a theory as to how this order was determined? It doesn’t look very fuel-efficient; doesn’t Tokyopop CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT????
Best: The segment with Dr. Laurie Brau about culinary manga- once again, Dre and Diana get to do the best stuff, and I’m so glad that someone in academia is doing something that actually seems different and interesting and not the redundant, masturbatory exercise that most academic study appears to be. Seriously.
Worst: Watching people stuff food into their mouths- wasn’t gross enough to put me off the show, but still general-purpose gross, not to mention kind of random and unnecessary. I’m also kind of annoyed by the food choices- a chance to eat five times as much of something as usual, and Team Mangaloids picks Kix cereal? Ladies, did you forget that chocolate exists? It should have at least been limited to foods with an otaku connection, like Pocky or something.
Next, the show apparently goes back to California, because spending the first week there apparently wasn’t enough (?), and I see if the other AGO co-hosts can find a way to stand out from the mini-golf playing, pancake-annihilating shadow of Team D&D, who seem to win everything.
Go, Team S&S! May you win a no-prize in the next challenge, which will hopefully be much less gross.
Okay, before I do anything else, what is up with that Hulu commercial with the Adrian Brody lookalike with the huge nose singing in the bar while all the women cry? I have now seen that commercial three times in the process of watching and getting a few screens from this episode, and I still have no clue what’s going on there. Are we supposed to gather that the wine is what hideous-yet-inexplicably-sexy French people drink or something?
Anyway, I thought this episode was a massive improvement over the first one. Not only did the Otaku 6 show that they do in fact have personality (once their boss isn’t looking over their shoulder), but some of the people interviewed were just really interesting, even more so than last time. An Iraqi woman who was exposed to anime through Arabic dubs and now studies Japanese and publishes her own adorable doujinshi? A Japanese Aikido instructor with a sense of humor who also works as a chef at the restaurant next door, serving “country style” Japanese food of yore? Those are the kinds of characters I would perhaps make up for a story and then say “nah, too unrealistic,” so I think it’s awesome that these guys actually exist.
Meanwhile, since I wrote about the first episode, the manga-focused internet has seemingly exploded with hate for Tokyopop after some recent layoffs. I don’t know what to make of it; as far as I can tell, the people who are irritated with the company have some valid reasons for being that way, but there seems to be an element of people projecting any sort of dissatisfaction with Tokyopop that they have ever had since the days of Mixxzine in the ’90s onto AGO, and that doesn’t seem very fair to the people on the show, most of whom do not have much to do with Tokyopop.
I’ve seen a lot of comments to the effect of “How dare Tokyopop make this show that I have now decided to hate when they should be finishing my favorite series/not laying off people/re-translating that one title I think they screwed up ten years ago/ etc. etc.” and it’s like, guys, that’s like forty different issues that the contestants and Otaku 6 have nothing to do with. Once again, I’m not saying that the concerns about the way Tokyopop does business aren’t valid (and I’m not enough of a regular manga buyer to feel like I have an educated opinion there, honestly), but that’s an awful lot of baggage to saddle a little otaku-culture show with.
Pride and Prejudiced Mormons
I was kind of wondering what would happen if the cast ended up in a city where there wasn’t much otaku stuff to do, so it’s good we’ve gotten that out of the way with Salt Lake City. Personally I was kind of hoping that they would end up in North Dakota, just because I think the idea of traipsing around sparsely-populated North Dakota looking for cosplayers or something is hysterical, but that’s just me.
The cosplay challenge took away the biggest problem that I had with this show initially, which is that the Otaku 6 seemed pointless- the theme and challenge gave them a reason for being other than as automotons to ask questions in Stu Levy’s place, and Dominique certainly looked much better as Sailor Mars than Levy would have. However, I’m still confused about the structure of this show somewhat- so team D&D “won” the cosplay challenge, right? I know they’re not the AGO contestants, but it seems like they should have won SOMETHING for the challenge, even if it’s only a box of Pocky. I think the benefit of winning any of these things should have been described from the beginning.
As far as the contestants go, as noted above I thought Shireen from Salt Lake City was awesome, and Di-Khiem from Denver certainly had the enthusiasm aspect down pat. I wasn’t too impressed with his song, but then he got the part about just wanting Ichigo and Rukia together and hating SasuXNaru, and then I decided he was a cool guy.
As far as Todd is concerned, I’m not sure if it’s fair to be including professional voice actors among the contestants. It seems that everyone we’ve seen so far is mainly a hobbyist, so including professionals seems to be skewing the focus of the show a little bit. That said, some of the contestants do seem to do art professionally (Di-Khiem mentioned that he has clients for his shoes), and it would stand to reason that some of the biggest otaku around would pursue anime-related professions. So I don’t know- it’s less that including a professional strikes me as strictly wrong, as I wish I had a better idea what their selection criteria was in the first place.
Best: Next to the whole story of Gaku Homma, who was just an all-around awesome guy who is not above slicing onions with a katana, Dre and Diana’s whole segment was the best. Watching them walk around the temple talking to otaku Mormon nuns and playing whacked out, Dada-ist mini-golf while in full cosplay was unique, but the two had sufficient chemistry that they were still watchable even when they were poking around behind dumpsters and basically doing nothing. Dre’s steadfast refusal to believe that they couldn’t find any otaku weirdness in SLC was amusing.
Worst: Sully’s cosplay. Really, if you’re going to be a Pocky Elf, you have to explain where the elf part comes from, or at least what inspired the costume. We sorely needed the origin of the Pocky Elf, and we never got it. Plus, it just looked like he was too lazy to dress up like a proper anime character. Stephan’s half-Persona, half-whatever cosplay wasn’t much better; yeah it’s hot, SO WHAT? Do you think Dominique enjoyed walking around town in that itty-bitty skirt? If you can’t take the heat, dress like Luffy.
Also going to call out the Funimation segment, not because it was bad but because it looked like they were dubbing Sora No Otoshimono, and that’s just a waste of absolutely everyone’s time.
Next time: The Otaku 6 visit more cities that are not in North Dakota (boo), and maybe I’ll get closer to nailing down whether or not the Otaku6 actually win anything for having to be weird in public repeatedly. Seriously, I am really curious what venues they’re going to pick when they get to my neck of the woods in NY.
Just so you know, the last reality show I watched was an episode of Top Chef where Cookie Monster, Elmo and Telly showed up to judge a baking Quickfire, and Padma totally talked to the Muppets like they were real people. For me, this was the pinnacle of reality television; they can stop making it now.
Nevertheless, I decided to give Tokyopop’s new reality show (or whatever it is) a shot, and while it certainly wasn’t stellar- five minutes in, I was considering turning it off out of boredom- it was better than I expected. I decided that I wouldn’t blog about it if it was really bad, because then all I’d end up doing is mocking the show, and that’s kind of a horrible thing to do when real people are involved. It turned out that it’s good enough that I can talk about it without mocking it, but not good enough that I’m not tempted to at points.
Right now, the biggest problem with the show is that the so-called “Otaku 6” have no personality, other than perhaps Stephan. That’s not to say they don’t actually have good personalities; maybe if I knew them, I would think they were the most charming, sparklingly effervescent otaku shut-in con-goers I knew, but that’s the problem- I don’t know them. At all.
I used to snobbily avoid all reality TV, but lately I’ve softened to some of the shows that have actual content other than “watch these people live in a house.” After watching many episodes of Top Chef, Cake Boss, and Next Great Baker (notice a theme?), I know that the one thing you can usually say about reality shows is that you get a strong feeling of the personalities of the various contestants- sometimes, you hate their guts, but you definitely know who they are, even after only an episode or two. The main thing the Otaku 6 did in this episode was stand around and try not to look too awkward when host (and Tpop founder) Stu Levy asked their guests questions. What’s the point of having them, if we’re not getting to know them?
Of course, the Otaku 6 aren’t the contestants- the four people in this episode who are in contention for the “Greatest Otaku” title are, and the interviews with them were actually interesting. Supposedly, the Otaku 6 are going to come into their own next episode and start doing more interviews, but I don’t know- as of right now, I would be having pretty much the same experience if Levy were just walking around and interviewing people single-handedly.
Also, the five or ten minutes at the beginning of the show spent introducing the 6 were by far the most boring part- I almost turned it off in a until they started interviewing the guy with the massive toy collection. Speaking of which…
A Definition of Otaku After My Own Heart
They seem to be using a rather inclusive definition of otaku- one contestant’s American comics collection is counted as part of his otaku swag, and some of the venues aren’t strictly Japanese or J-culture related; I couldn’t figure out what the otaku connection with that game company was, other than the fact that the art in their games was MAYBE a little anime-inspired.
This doesn’t bother me- the girl who puts Tomb Raider analysis on her otaku blog- but expect J-culture snobs to bitch and moan about this like there’s no tomorrow. At the very least, I promise that if I stop watching it, it will be for a much less stupid reason.
The last thing of note is the fact that the show seems to be somewhat ambivalent about whom it’s targeted at. Every otaku-related term is described in an on-screen post it, which I suppose is nice for people who don’t know squat about otaku culture, but how many of them are actually watching this? Furthermore, how many people who know about this show really need WoW explained as “a popular online role-playing game”?
If it was just the post-its I could let it slide, but it seems like everything is over-explained just on the off chance that someone grew up in some wasteland where even Pickachu’s adorable face never graced their TV screens, and it’s annoying. I thought this was supposed to be a show by-otaku, for otaku, at least in theory- why are they catering to the 1% who discovered this site through something other than an enthusiast website?
Best: -The interviews with all four of the Greatest Otaku hopefuls. Not only was it fun seeing those massive collections, but they seem to have tried to pick people who have some kind of talent in addition to just buying everything under the sun.
-That little moment when Levy picked up that girl’s Nia dolfie, and though she was smiling you could tell she was thinking “if he breaks my $700 doll I will absolutely set the Tokyopop offices on fire.”
Worst: The really poor play-acting Levy and the guys did a few times. If you’re going to do an obviously rehearsed “hey, what are THESE doing here?” sort of bit, you have to go so far over the top that it’s hilariously cheesy, not just kind of throw it out there and hope for the best. Those were perhaps the only moments when the show started to cross the line into “I can’t believe I’m watching this” territory.
Overall, it was definitely not a total waste of 40 minutes of my life. But would I bother if I didn’t have a blog called Otakusphere? I’m really not sure at this point, but I’ll give it another episode or two at least.