Western SF and Animu’d Covers

It’s surprisingly fun to image-surf on Amazon.co.jp, hopping from cover to cover with the “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed…” I especially enjoy seeing the covers for Western SF novels. I might nerd-rage over manga/light novels getting more “US marketable” covers, but the same thing happens in reverse. I don’t reflexively prefer the original cover, though, but the one that best hits my aesthetic tastes. And these hit them pretty well.

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The Bittersweetness of Digital Manga

A lot of Japanese companies are putting their manga online for an English-speaking audience. This is a wonderful trend, but it’s bittersweet for me. On one hand, online distro is great for manga too niche or risque for US print publishers. But on the other hand, I just can’t accept the “streaming only”, “no-ownership” way most companies are doing their digital manga.

Let’s take a look at J-Manga, one of the biggest disappointments. In their system, you pay cash to buy “points.” With these points, you can pay to put chapters or volumes on your “shelf,” and read them online. “Streaming manga” might sound weird, but it’s basically the same thing as streaming video sites. You can only read the manga you’ve payed for through your web browser, and maybe some mobile apps in the future. There are no downloads, and no true ownership. You only pay for access rights, which can be revoked at any time for all sorts of reasons (their TOS reserves the right to ban users for a number of arbitrary reasons, from “causing embarrassment” to the company). If any of JManga’s JP publisher partners change their minds and take down titles, you will lose permanently lose stuff you’ve payed for. This will happen; there are already plenty of Crunchyroll shows that’ve been taken down as the licensors go elsewhere. Not even just because shows are licensed for R1; JP publishers seem to remove things on random whims (No idea what happened to Book of Bantorra, not like I care much). The publisher consortium providing JManga’s content have shown an especially large amount of disunity and grumbling.

I love the idea of digital content distributed via the internet. And I’m quite glad to pay for it; it’s not just a matter of wanting everything free. My folder of “digital files I’ve payed to download” is 21.9 GB. But the trend toward access rights, instead of ownership, is disturbing. I don’t want to be at the mercy of some corporate gatekeeper. Progress should mean consumers gaining rights, not signing them away. Even beyond principle, a DRMed market is still a huge headache that customers shouldn’t have to put up with. So when I buy manga online, I only buy it as DRM-free downloads. It’s not like that’s a totally unrealistic, utopian dream…GEN Manga sells their issues as a DRM-free PDF, while both BOST TV and Crunchyroll used to sell DRM-free anime. Every single file in that 21 GB folder is DRM-free. And until the digital manga market evolves into an acceptable form, I’ll be waiting for it. In the mean time, I have tons of manga on paper to catch up on.

Covers of GEN Manga volumes 4, 5, and 6

GEN Manga, doing it right.

The Top Shelf

I think it’s really useful to consider, if you had to throw out nearly everything, what you’d keep. Only through hard choices can you truly know what’s important to you.

In the future, I plan to live in a tiny house. When I first heard of the small house movement, it made so much sense to me. This short PBS video tells the story well:

 

Houses should be designed to serve people’s real needs, not to serve as temples of over-consumption. Since 1950, the median size of houses in America has doubled, even while the average number of people per household has decreased 25%. The average American house emits more carbon dioxide than a car1. Not only are oversized homes a waste of resources, they’re too expensive for average people to afford without going into debt. All I want, when I finally settle down, is a nice, efficient, and cozy tiny house. No mortgage, no huge heating bill, no massive waste of resources.

But wait, what about all my shelves of anime, manga, and doujinshi? I’m the sort of person who loves collecting, and I’ve built up heaps of cherished stuff over the years. Sure, for a lot of things, I can just rip or scan them. Digital storage on a hard drive is ridiculously more efficient than physical storage on a shelf. BD encryption has been cracked forever, and it’s not too hard to make a DIY book scanner. There’s even a whole community dedicated to them: www.diybookscanner.org. But I’ll still have that longing for the physical copies, the fancy LE packaging, and the tactile nostalgia of books…especially for my favorite series.

So I’ve had to think about what I’ll keep. With my BDs, I figure I’ll have space for at least one shelf (I don’t even want to think about the manga yet…). So while I organize my discs alphabetically, there’s one top shelf set aside: the things I’d keep if I had to get rid of everything else. Only through hard choices can you discover what you truly love. I think about buying things differently, too. With every item, I think, “Will I just be getting rid of this in a few years?” It might seem that would discourage otaku-ish consumption. But it actually encourages me to buy premium items, with a high cost-to-volume ratio, of my absolute favorite franchises. Like, one imported JP BD (with English subtitles), instead of a bunch of R1 DVD sets that could be bought with the same amount. Quality over quantity.

At first the storage issues troubled me. Now, though, I’m actually glad for the chance to focus on what’s truly important to me. Even for people who’re set with traditional housing, I think it’s an interesting mental exercise. Life is full of clutter, and I don’t just mean the physical kind. Reorganizing my mental shelf will be my first step past it.

(Still though, it’s gonna be soooo sweet to have an HD widescreen and surround sound up in that tiny house.)

 

1 p. 26. Shafer, Jay. The Small House Book. Sebastopol, CA: Tumbleweed Tiny House, 2009. Print.

It’s Not About The Lolicon Guy

It’s funny how, in any space, if you start speaking up and defending lolicon you get known as “the lolicon guy.”

True, I’m pro-lolicon. I think simply looking at a picture should never be a crime, no matter what the picture is. I don’t even fit the ad hominem profile, though. The underaged make up, like 2% of my masturbatory experience. That’s probably a lot less than any normal bro fapping on the Chive. I guess you could call me lolicon, in the same way eating a latke makes someone Jewish. My real preferences, though, are something more like this (NSFW, and for those not clicking, a summary: huge breasts, huge thighs, everywhere) If all the world’s lolicon art suddenly disappeared, my life wouldn’t be any worse. Heck, it might even be a bit better.

But it’s the principle of the matter. And freedom of the human imagination is a principle, I think, worth fighting for.

Research Fail: Moe Images and Virtual Child Pornography

I found this eyebrow-raising passage while hopping through Google Books lately:

“In a poll conducted in 2005 by the Anime News Network, an online portal for anime information, 29 percent of American anime fans felt that moe images should be banned completely.” Japanamerica, by Roland Kelts, p. 162

What? Seriously?! Looking up the actual poll, of course, showed that it actually referred to “virtual child porn,” not “moe images.”

Should “virtual child porn” (IE: pictures and animation depicting minors involved in pornographic situations, but not involving real minors in its creation) be illegal?

No     684 (39.4%)
Yes     506 (29.1%)
It should be banned in certain situations, but not others.    340 (19.6%)
I’m Undecided     208 (12.0%)

I won’t claim there isn’t a healthy undercurrent of sensuality in moe imagery, but using it as an equivalent term to “child pornography” is absurd. I image he’s not willfully misrepresenting his research, but is instead just really confused. It makes one worry about the understanding of otaku culture, though, when a widely read book makes such a jarring mistake. In the US, unfortunately, the sexual innocence of children is the one debate topic where all standards of reason are jettisoned. And in this murky pool, moe is wading knee-deep.

Importing Nogami Takeshi’s bilingual doujinshi

Updated 2012 Jan 15: I emailed Nogami Takeshi asking if he could restock some books on MangaPal, and he actually wrote back and did! How nice.

I decided to make this collection of links to Nogami Takeshi’s bilingual Strike Witches doujinshi, to make importing them less confusing. Here’s a list of all books with a full English translation, and links to their item pages on MangaPal and Amazon.co.jp. Ordered by in-series chronology, they are:

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Growth of Anime Simulcasting (Now With Charts!)

I’ve been following the growth of simulcasting for a long time. I’m certainly invested in it, since I only watch anime legally (no fansubs…but that’s a post of its own). The first series I watched this way was Strike Witches back in 2008, through BOST TV. BOST partnered with a financially desperate GONZO to offer DRM-free legal downloads of anime, available for purchase just as the show aired in Japan. What sort of utopian distribution scheme is that? They eventually went out of business, though, due to piracy and low visibility, compared to Crunchyroll. R.I.P…. But since then, simulcasting has grown dramatically. Check out these charts, from 2009 to this current season in 2011:

In under two years, the % of new TV anime with a simulcast has grown from 16% to 72%, nearly 3/4ths of all new anime. And the growth isn’t just in quantity; quality has shot up too. There are streams of this season’s most 2ch-popular titles like Haganai, Working!!, and others. Plus huge diversity, from josei card-gaming to real steampunk.

On the % of simulcasted series graph, there are noticeable spikes in the Summer and Winter seasons. This is because in Japan, Spring and Fall are much bigger months for new TV anime, with many more premiers. However, the US/International licensing companies don’t have the same seasonal ebb and flow. They just plug on at a roughly constant rate, as can be seen in the raw # of simulcasts graph.

There’s one economic condition that was felt on both sides, though. The economic crisis of 2008 definitely had at least some part in simulcasting’s growth, even if a small part. When things get tight, companies need to squeeze out every last bit of money they can. The international market was the perfect place to start squeezing. GONZO reacted the same way to its economic troubles, licensing its properties like mad to Funimation (I wonder if Strike Witches would ever get licensed otherwise…well, it did end up doing surprisingly well in US sales).

But when it comes to meeting consumer interests, a little desperation can be a good thing. We have so many more opportunities to watch anime legally now. A few years ago, the idea that all anime would be simulcast seemed impossible. Heck, even the idea that 72% of anime would be simulcast seemed impossible. But after all, the future is where the impossible goes to die.

(If one is curious, here’s the roughly formatted list of simulcasts I’m basing these charts off of http://pastebin.com/raw.php?i=07zQm9qP. Defining what “new TV anime” is can be vague, but for the purposes of this data, it’s including all children’s shows but excluding TV-aired specials with 2 or less episodes, or anything that’s purely CGI, puppet, or clay animation.)

My Little Pony: Fansubs are Magic

As anyone on the  internet knows, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has become freakishly popular. And it’s even getting well known in Japan. A growing number of episodes can be watched fansubbed on Nico Nico Douga, and the response is quite positive.

Someone is also translating the Japanese niconico comments into English. It’s like a trippy recursive feedback loop of fandom, full of “kawaiiiii”s and “wwwwwww”s.

Ep 1. “Friendship Is Magic – Part 1”
Ep. 2 “Friendship Is Magic – Part 2”
Ep. 3 “The Ticket Master”
Ep. 4 “Applebuck Season”
Ep. 5 “Griffon the Brush-Off”

To be honest, I’m not that surprised. MLP: FiM is, at it’s core, no different than slice-of-life moe anime like K-On! or Azumanga Daioh. There’s an all-female cast, with cutesy archetypes like the socially-awkward genius (Twilight Sparkle), the genki high-tension girl (Pinkie Pie), and the the adorable shy one (Fluttershy). There’s the humor and schmaltzy sentimentality. The only difference is, the characters are magical talking ponies in a tripped-out rainbow world. Which, in some ways, is even more awesome than the usual highschool girl setting. And otaku needn’t worry about losing their beloved zettai ryouiki, etc. fetish fuel; there are plenty of other fetishes to gain (Ponibooru actually has a tag for “foalcon,” oh god what).

Perspective

Link 1 , Link 2

Master Merchant, Japan Does Dominion

Master Merchant (大商人) is a board game first sold at the 2011 Summer Comiket, just one more piece of, “No, Comiket isn’t just for porn.” Not only that, but it’s a board game that makes me go DO WANT.

Master Merchant is heavily influenced by Dominion, possibly my favorite tabletop game ever. Like Magic: the Gathering before it, Dominion created an entire genre: the “Deck Building Game,” or DBG. Unlike CCGs, with DBGs you ‘ll never spend your life savings on artificially-scarce chase rares. Instead of bringing a deck beforehand, you build your deck as you play. And instead of booster packs, all players draw from the same pool of cards, which changes every game. Dominion’s elegant gameplay won it the 2009 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year), as well as many other awards. It’s also become huge in Japan, spawning everything from a licensed Touhou version to moe maid variants.

The same card, in classic Dominion and Touhou version. Superior?

Tanto Cuore, on the other hand, takes more liberties.

Master Merchant owes a lot to DBGs before it, but with real twists on the classic mechanics. First of all, there’s no random drawing from the deck, and no shuffling. Instead of drawing 5 random cards each turn, your draw your entire deck at once, and draw it all back from the discard once you run out. It’s really more of a “Hand Building Game,” in a sense. It gives the game a very different feel, since you can plan around your opponent’s moves with exact precision. For components, instead of huge piles of each Kingdom card, the most copies of any card is 4. That keeps print costs down, making it easier to release expansions (which hopefully they will). All in all, the mechanics seem to be much tighter and tactical. Although, they also risk making the game more solvable.

Luckily I won’t have to wait too long to see how they play out: it also has English subtitles on each card, alongside the Japanese. It’s still hard to import a copy, though. It’ll be sold at the Essen Game Fair 2011 in Germany, and hopefully get a wider international release after.