Settlers of Catan referenced in Anime

It’s been on American TV shows before, but this is a whole new level of cultural saturation.

Catan in Teekyu

This is from the 15th episode of Teekyu. And before people say, “Wait, produces on  a roll of 15? There’s no such hex in Catan…”, ah yup, that’s part of the joke. Teekyu is a sort of rapid-fire absurdist comedy (which, coincidentally, is also legally streaming on Crunchyroll right now).

Catan is getting well known in Japan, though. They even have, bizarrely enough, a Megaman retheme of it. Yeah, that makes even less sense than Star Trek Catan.

More Official Animu’d Versions of Dominion

Dominion really is popular in Japan. Not only have they made an officially licensed Touhou version, now there’s one for Nitroplus and the anime Majikoi Oh! Samurai Girls (licensed by Sentai and Crunchyroll in the US).

Unfortunately, they look like rethemed clones of existing cards, instead of cards with all original mechanics. I can’t read Japanese too well, but the last sample card on HobbySearch is clearly Oasis.  It seems Donald X. is fine with retheming Dominion, but doesn’t want to ruin his vision of mechanics and balance. As his planned expansions come to a close, I guess we’ll have to depend on fan cards to keep on exponentially increasing the games depth.

These are some really nifty collector’s items, though. And it’ll bring the joy (and addiction) of Dominion to an even wider audience. Also, finally Harem actually makes sense, as seen in the “STEINS;GATE ver.” here.

My Little Pony, Touhou, and a Corporate Doujin Culture

My god…A My Little Pony version of the 1st Cardcaptor Sakura OP. And it’s done perfectly.

What I truly love about MLP:FiM is the extent of the fanworks. I’ve seen some people say, “I watched a few episodes, but couldn’t get into it.” If they only watch the actual show, though, they’re missing out. Take this video, for example: all the characters in it are background ponies, who appeared in as little as 15 seconds of the TV show. Despite that, fanon has given them personalities, involved backstories, and miles of fanart. It’s like Koakuma, but on overdrive. MLP might even become the American equivalent of Touhou Project, if more doujinshi is churned out. Already, though, this simple children’s cartoon has been reinterpreted so many ways. It’s:

– A symbol of resistance against traditional gender roles.
– An endless source of memetic humor.
– A yuri ship-fest for socially maladjusted males to deal with their sexual issues in a cute, non-threatening way.
– A world of high fantasy, with epic roleplaying campaigns and historical chronicles
– A new call for optimism, sincerity, and interpersonal relationships in a consumption-driven world lacking all those things

There’s one difference I worry about, though. Doujin works like Touhou Project and Ryukishi07’s “When They Cry Games” are made by individual autuers. But My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the intellectual property of a large corporation. They’ve been surprisingly lenient in allowing fanworks. They haven’t moved a finger against entire sites purely dedicated to My Little Pony fanporn, or a project for a My Little Pony dating sim. With ZUN cracking down on White Canvas for selling Touhou goods recently, Hasbro might be even more lenient than some Japanese doujin authors. And Hasbro might exert less influence on fan interpretations. With an autuer, fans are likely to accept new fanon-destroying canon without resistance. But with Hasbro, fans are less likely to accept a corporation’s canon as authoritative, as witnessed with the Lyra/Heartstrings controversy. But how long can this corporate lenience last? There’s a balance between the consumers they’d alienate by going all Cease & Desist, and the perceived brand damage from being associated with “creepy weirdos.” They might want to please the fanbase and keep the social media hype going, but the brony demographic is still a relatively small part of their profits. There are no hard numbers, but I couldn’t see it being much higher than 15 or 25% of MLP merchandise sales. For now at least, Hasbro continues to embrace the brony fandom. And hopefully they will long enough for us to see more awesome fan animations.

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.

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

Consumption is not Culture

Anime is rife with consumption. Hundreds of dollars are spent on limited edition K-On goods. “X thousand hours of anime watched” is a badge of honor on people’s MAL pages. Whether fervent otaku or fansub watcher, both are paths to the same thing: consuming in order identify with a shared culture. I’ve done both myself, though after a while I couldn’t help finding them a bit…empty. Does spending lots of money make one part of a community? Does sheer volume determine how much one loves anime, even without understanding or appreciating its context? I think both ways forget that culture is about communication, not just consumption.

What is culture? Jeremy Rifkin’s book, “The Age of Access,” insightfully pins down how our answer to this question has changed. Traditional culture exists to communicate a community’s values and shared experiences. Traditional culture is preserved, and passed on; it’s also participatory. From folk arts to hymnals, it was something we did ourselves, not watched from our couch as other people did. Changes in the 1920’s, from advertising to recording media, let the Commercial Sphere swallow up the Cultural Sphere. These days, the idea of culture as a purchasable product seems obvious. Culture went from describing the “proper way of living” to “selling a way of life.” Commercial culture is about novelty, not values. It’s about selling the latest thing, only to be forgotten once it’s the second latest thing.

This is a global trend, but it’s especially strong in parts of anime fandom. Hiroki Azuma referred to the “database” nature of modern otaku: epic narratives of the modern era have been replaced by fragmented narratives of the post-modern, where meaning isn’t important. It’s just about combining and classifying. Instead of the timeless struggle between good and evil, there’s the topical struggle between what’s hot and not; say, yandere are in this year. Twin-tailed fox-girl yandere? Brilliant. Cultural meaning is abandoned for commercial selling. Of course, this isn’t limited to otaku entertainment (“Zomg, zombie steampunk novel? Epic win”). Of course, there’s always a place for empty, yet fun, entertainment. Even if K-On! is completely forgotten fifteen years from now, it’s still quite enjoyable to watch. But making it the core of one’s identity or value system seems like an empty (eventually not very fun) path.

But “otaku culture” is too vast to pin down so easily. The world of doujinshi is like a budding oak tree, a glorious resurgence of participatory culture. In the west, one might think of Comiket as all porn parodies, but that’s only part of it. Alongside the twin-tailed yandere books, there’s autobiographical comics, nerding out about military history, and political satire against Shintaro Ishihara. The values they espouse might be very bizarre to some, but they’re certainly values. With the cultural sphere separate from the commercial sphere, culture can finally be about what people want to say, not about convincing people what they want to buy. This is what I truly love about the fandom, out of all its tangled branches.

In the US, anime fandom is still mostly about consumption. Of course, we should support the things we love…my bulging Blu-ray and book shelves attest to this. But consumption isn’t a replacement for culture. Empty consumption, whether through the checkbook or BitTorrent, does not create community. And it can’t bring meaning to the empty spaces in modern life. The US fandom has problems holding back it’s participatory side, but it also has solutions. With the US’s vast geography, it’s much harder to have a monolithic central event like Comiket in Tokyo. But the internet and digital distribution can make that problem irrelevant. US anime fandom also seems to have some deep-seated racial inferiority complex: “Japanese people produce all the culture…we just consume it.” However, if culture is pressed into plastic wrap and sold at a super market, it dies. True culture needs to be a two-way street…or a thousand-way street. It’s about speaking, not just listening.

SF References in Anime, From Obvious to Obscure

Japanese edition of a Robert F. Young short story collection...with a really neat cover.

People have claimed that written science fiction is “dying” for decades now. Despite that, all these decades, more and more great science fiction books are being written. The classics, and even lots of modern stuff, have a huge influence on more “pop” mediums. Anime is no exception, with references to SF novels showing up everywhere.

Clannad, “The Dandelion Girl” by Robert F. Young: Kotomi reads it as a child in her arc, and it’s the source of the recurring line “Day before yesterday I saw a rabbit, and yesterday a deer, and today, you.” Japanese readers voted it the “6th best SF story of all time” in a magazine poll. In the US, it’s not well known enough to keep in print, although it was printed online by SciFiction. The story has also been adapted into a visual novel by fans.

Eureka Seven, Greg Egan/Greg Bear: The scientist character of that name is based upon the reclusive Australian author Greg Egan, who is especially popular in Japan. That Japanese poll? His “Reasons to be Cheerful” was voted the #1 best foreign SF story…and himself the #2 best foreign SF writer, behind only Philip K. Dick. The character’s nickname “Dr. Bear” also refers to the author Greg Bear.

Geneshaft, multiple books: All it’s episode title are references to classic SF stories/books. In some cases, they’re based on new names used for the Japanese publication, so they’re not obvious to English readers. For example, James P. Hogan’s “Thrice Upon a Time” was printed in Japanese as “未来からのホットライン (Hotline from the Future), and episode 6 is titled “過去からのホットライン”(“Hotline from the Past”).

In Japan, even Greg Egan's "hardest SF known to man" needs a girl on the cover.

Gurren Lagann: The subtitles for the two movies reference the science fiction novels “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke and “The Lights in the Sky are Stars” by Frederic Brown. The first book is well-known, but the second hasn’t gotten much attention in the US since its publishing in 1953.

Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, multiple books: The book-loving alien robot reads a number of SF books throughout the series. She seems especially fond of the Hyperion series; it includes the book she placidly calls “unique,” and the book she gives to Kyon with a hidden bookmark. The magazine which serializes the light novels also posted a list of “Nagato Yuki’s 100 Books,” with “Nagato’s Favorites” like “Permutation City” by Greg Egan and “Terminal Experiment” by Robert J. Sawyer…both books she could definitely relate to.

Nichijou/My Ordinary Life, episode 20, “The Sirens of Titan,” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: The book is seen randomly and conspicuously in one of the intermissions. Of course, if it’s SF in Nichijou, it has to be something like Vonnegut.

Toward the Terra, “Slan” by A.E. van Vogt: The 1977 manga shares the basic premise of (oppressed psychic mutants who live among humans, and are hunted down for execution) and main character’s name (“Jommy”) of A.E. van Vogt’s 1940 novel. Although the two stories have the same premise, they take it in very different directions. Slan is pure pulp, but it’s still an enduring classic which hit a nerve with the nerdy SF fans of its time. They took up the slogan “fans are Slans!,” comparing themselves to the evolved, imaginative mutant race persecuted by mundane society. 

Driftwood in the Internet Sea: Translations of Foreign Comments

As a US fan of anime, I can’t help wondering what “the other side of the pond” thinks. It took me a long time to realize, though, that the Japanese feel the same way. There’s a surprising number of Japanese blogs translating the comments of foreign anime fans into Japanese; I list some at the end of this article. What’s even weirder, though, is seeing your own comments translated back into Japanese. I hope I don’t give a bad impression…!:

Responding to a criticism of Strike Witches, “without the moe, nobody would watch it”:

http://seichi-nippon.com/anime/strikewitches/s2-ep1

俺はこのアニメのすべての要素を楽しんでる。萌え要素がなかった時は、一般的な第二次世界大戦の事件を。軍事ネタがなかった時は、一般的な百合ファンサービスアニメとして。このアニメがユニークなのは様々な要素が調和しているからだね。

一方で、俺はストーリーやアニメでのポジティブな教訓なども心から楽しんでいる。このアニメには癒しの効果があるね。そして戦争や歴史が女性中心化しているのは記号論的にとっても魅力的だよ。俺はストライクウィッチーズを多くの視点から楽しんでいる・・・これからもファンを続けていくだろうね。SW(ストライクウィッチーズ)のことを素晴らしいアニメだと思っていないと書いている人がいたけど、俺は正直言って素晴らしいアニメだと思っているよ。

(俺がストライクウィッチーズの抱き枕を3個持っていることについては触れるべきなのだろうか?そして他のキャラの抱き枕も手に入れたいのを我慢しているということも?)

Original English:

“I enjoy all the parts of the show. If it didn’t have the moe aspect, it’d be some generic WWII drama. If it didn’t have the military aspect, it’d be some generic yuri fanservice show. It’s their union that makes the show unique.

On the other hand, I also genuinely enjoy the story and the show’s positive messages. The show has a healing effect. And the whole feminization of war and history is just really fascinating on semiotic level. I enjoy Strike Witches on tons of levels…I could fanboy on and on about it. Someone else said they don’t think SW is a “brilliant” show. I honestly do think it’s brilliant.”

(Should I mention that I own three SW dakimakuras? And I’m trying to restrain myself from getting more of the cast?) (Their emphasis)

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