Greetings, my Trusty Toyboxers! Welcome to another full-scale broadcast and fighter-bomber assault on your dried-up defenses, hehe. But seriously, this week, we take a wrong turn into the animated apocalypse of propagandized “pop anime”, otaku-oriented merchandising, scantily-clad “funimation”, ghostly cyber-digital memories, fiesty Filipina gals and tasty Vietnamese dishes, lol. No-no-no, not tasty gals and fiesty dishes! That was last week, haha. Plus, on top of all this, we’ve got a delicious inter-dimensional serving of high-res “Clannad” and “Clannad After Story” wallpapers! Who can ignore that? Well, enough of the irritating intro. It’s time for our five-part show to begin…
Part 1 of 5 > Propaganda, Pop Anime & Clannad
Pop Music. Huh? What’s “pop anime”? But first of all, before we tackle that, what do you think of “Top Forty” or “pop music“? What do you think of Britney Spears, Mylie Cyrus, and the talented yet mass-packaged stars of “American Idol”? Well, love them as uplifting performers or hate them as soul-less celebrities, they’re an undeniable force in popular culture. Because by definition, “pop music” is popular. Duh. And double duh, lol.
Propaganda. Secondly, according to Wikipedia, here’s the definition of “propaganda“.
“Propaganda is the dissemination of information aimed at influencing the opinions or behaviors of large numbers of people… Propaganda often presents facts selectively… or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda.”
While anime as a whole may not have any clear political agenda, it may have a certain culturally-charged message in its storytelling. Cultural not political. And yet, doesn’t any culture have an embedded political composition?
Pop Anime. So what’s “pop anime”? It’s intriguing. In my brief Google searches, the term “pop anime” doesn’t seem to have any cultural or sociological definition. Not yet, lol. So I suppose I’ll take this moment to coin the term “pop anime” for the first time ever, hehe. Essentially, my definition parallels the Wikipedia definition of “pop music“.
“Pop music is a music genre that features a noticeable rhythmic element, melodies and hooks, a mainstream style and a conventional structure… Lyrics in pop music are frequently about love, relationships and life experiences. The primary objectives of the pop music genre are audience enjoyment and commercial success.”
Similarly, here’s my newly-coined definition of “pop anime”.
“Pop anime” is the mainstream genre of Japanese animation which features stories about love, sexuality, romance, independence and overcoming personal obstacles, frequently targeting viewers and portraying characters of grade-school and high-school ages. These stories are often highlighted by bishoujo or bishonen characters, as well as a verbally or physically comedic style, rarely dealing with explicit violence or controversial political issues, but revolving around at least one of two central quests — the “quest for love or friendship” and the “quest to be the best”.
Pretty slick and straight-forward, eh? By this definition, “pop anime” would include everything from the long-running commercially-successful “quest” sagas such as “InuYasha”, “Naruto” and “Bleach”, to the shorter one-season “slice of life” comedies such as “Ichigo Mashimaro”, “Azumanga Daioh” and “Lucky Star”. Even “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” could be included. However, by this same definition, “pop anime” would *not* include the more psychologically, politically or violently charged titles of “Evangelion”, “Death Note”, “Code Geass”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” and “Hellsing Ultimate”. Which makes perfect “pop” sense.
So where does the propaganda fit into the pop? Well, after reading Otaku Dan’s recent posts on the digital format war and the death of another anime magazine, the issues triggered old notions of merchandising, magazines and mnemonic devices I’d written about almost three years ago. In fact, I’ve included three of my articles below, hehe. Essentially, in our current economic climate, when money (or a lack thereof) determines the life and death of magazines and media formats, anime as a marketable and merchandisable industry can only survive in a few directions. One of those sustainable directions is as “pop anime”.
You know where I’m heading, don’t you? As anime gravitates more and more towards commercially-safe “pop anime”, the view of its own culture tends to get skewed. For good or for ill. In American “pop music”, songs seem to reflect an idealized (or demonized) view of life, love and relationships. And American pop performers are both loved and hated for it. Likewise, in Japanese “pop anime”, shows seem to reflect an idealized or supernatural view of Japanese life, love and relationships. One might say, this view has evolved to the point where social concerns, such as xenophobia, misogyny and pedophilia are not simply down-played or over-looked, but often portrayed in playful comedic terms. As if Japan never had a problem with foreigners, women or young girls. We continue to see an endless string of moe maids, kawaii catgirls and lolicon character designs. And anime is both loved and hated throughout the world for it. So while this animated form of entertainment may not be feeding any political battle, one could argue that “pop anime” may still represent a defensive form of propaganda in a cultural war against other gradually-imported cultures. How Japanese life *should* be. How the Japanese *should* live. But like I said, propaganda or not, intentional or not, superficial or not, that’s the definition of “popular”, isn’t it?
So do you love “pop anime”? Do you hate it? Or do you care at all?
Clannad After Story . Having said that, I finally finished one of the most-perfectly-crafted “pop anime” series of all time. At least in my opinion, lol. The “Clannad” and “Clannad After Story” series! Yup, yesterday, I watched the 24th and final episode of “Clannad After Story”, completing my 11th anime-title-or-season of the year. Here’s my quick-and-easy speed-review.
Aww. Wow. Double-wow. Triple-wow. Such an incredibly awe-inspiring, breath-taking, heart-breaking and soul-warming ride, followed by a cute yet fateful flashback bonus-story, and concluded with a still-gripping recap finale. An ever-resounding 5 of 5 stars! My #1 anime title of the year thus far!
I mean, what else can I say? If you’ve seen it, you definitely know what I mean, hehe. Thus, in celebration of the final conclusion of “Clannad” and “Clannad After Story”, here are 11 high-res wallpapers for your otaku consumption, lol. Enjoy!
Ah, here’s the adorable female protagonist, Nagisa.
Here’s another more-dramatic angle, lol.
The five central girls of “Clannad”! Fuuko, Kotomi, Kyou, Nagisa and Tomoyo!
Just three of the girls, lol. Kyou, Tomoyo and Nagisa!
Now this wallpaper might be fan-made. But the detailed quality of the leaves, the haze and the shadows might point to the original studio artist.
But here, the lower quality of the leaves, plus the footer signature clearly marks this wallpaper as fan-made, lol.
Wow, I love the detailed texture on the robot. Studio designed and drawn!
Ah, another studio-textured masterpiece!
But here, the simplicity of the robot reveals the fan-made, but beautifully-vectored, portrayal.
Not quite sure about this one. Since the characters don’t quite look like themselves, hehe.
Ah, no question about this final studio-detailed wallpaper. Simply breath-taking art.
That’s it! That’s the end of Part 1, folks! Now, as I mentioned above, here are three of the anime articles I wrote as a staff writer for the fan-based LasVegasOtaku.org Subarashii blog/zine. Sadly, while I joined in May 2006, LVO disbanded in July 2007. Awww, lol.
Part 2 of 5 > Otaku Merchandising: From Lucas to Vegas
24 October 2006
Fig. 1. May the Profits Be With You! Famous still from the original Star Wars (1977). Click to enlarge.
|George Lucas. Whether you admire or avoid him, his name is inescapably tied to material consumption and consumerism. Specifically, by unconventionally acquiring the licensing rights to his original and earth-shatteringly successful Star Wars (1977) three decades ago (Fig. 1) — in a time when film studios held the narrow “could care less” belief that secondary spin-off publications or properties were never profitable — the soft-spoken and once-unknown filmmaker and his sudden skyrocketing fortune undeniably proved to them otherwise. Studios had no choice but to take notice. And as a result of his winning gamble, Lucas — whether accidentally or not — gave birth to a revolutionary new form of consumer industry, and is regarded by many as the pioneer of modern-day entertainment-driven merchandising. Ah yes, as a little kid, I still remember sleeping in my sky-blue Star Wars bedsheets!|
Fig. 2. Viva Akihabara! One view of Tokyo’s Akihabara shopping district (2006).
|2006-2007. Three decades later, global merchandising shows no clear signs of stalling. On the contrary, while the free and ever-evolving internet exchange of digital files (MP3, AVI, etc.) may eat away at the conventional sales of DVD titles, CD soundtracks, and disc-based videogames, the industry continues to leap and bound in other branches. Bed sheets may be less common, but toys, models, action figures, dolls, posters, even T-shirts, keychains and cellphone accessories — based on successful and less-than-successful films, shows, tunes and games — have found their way into our everyday consciousness. One can find anything from LEGO Star Wars products to WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) toys to Lost (ABC TV) fan gear to Snakes on a Plane T-shirts, and everything in between!
Tokyo, Japan. Consistently one of the top-two or top-three most-expensive cities in the world over the last two decades. The home of the largest most-recognized electronics-based megacorps — including Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic — on the globe. And the cutting-edge mecca of anything related to anime, manga, videogames and otaku culture as a whole. Focusing their consuming eyes and ears on Tokyo’s infamous Akihabara shopping district (Fig. 2), the rest of the otaku world waits in anticipation and jumps in enthusiasm at the latest offerings. In terms of merchandising beyond the standard products of disc deliverables (DVDs and CDs) and paper publications (manga and novels), the multi-billion-dollar otaku-entertainment market (as observed in the December 2004 paper by the Nomura Research Institute) further thrives on these aforementioned toys, models, action figures, dolls, posters, T-shirts, keychains, cellphone accessories, and anything else that’s marketable. For example, let’s take a look at three popular titles.
Las Vegas, Nevada. Undoubtedly, the most-famous and most-popular gambling center in the United States. The home of the greatest concentration of casinos — including Caesars Palace, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay — anywhere in the world. And the town also proudly referred to as “Sin City” and “The Entertainment Capital of the World”. So now, expanding its rippling reach from Tokyo, how strongly does this otaku-powered merchandising phenomenon filter down and find its way to the Las Vegas area? Well, on a partly-rainy and partly-cloudy Saturday, October 14th, I decided to visit a handful of nearby stores in Henderson, the most-populous suburb of Las Vegas. Here’s what I managed to find.
Consequently, while my visits involved just a few stores within just a few hours, I think this hints at the extent to which otaku-related products may be offered throughout the entire Las Vegas region. Depending on your personality, this could be either comforting or scary! But in tracing the rising path from 1977 to 2007, and riding the expanding wave from Tokyo to Las Vegas, two projections seem inevitable: (1) Entertainment-driven merchandising will continue to thrive throughout the international and global otaku communities. (2) And with it, Japan’s exotic appeal and cultural influence will continue to flourish not simply in the East, but especially in the West. Then again, perhaps this was destined to happen. After all, Lucas’ unexpected success originated with his admiration for the legendary Akira Kurosawa, widely regarded as one of the greatest film directors in history. It’s only fitting that their prosperity — borne of the love of Japanese cinema — should ultimately accelerate and foster an otaku-cultural phenomenon — borne of the love of Japanese storytelling.
xJAYMANx joined Las Vegas Otaku.org in May 2006. (Sadly, LVO disbanded in July 2007.) Exposed to the classics — Speed Racer (1967), Battle of the Planets (1978), Star Blazers (1979), The Transformers (1984), Robotech (1985) and Thundercats (1985) — as a child in the 1980s, he attributes his triggered rediscovery as an otaku to The Matrix (1999) and The Animatrix (2003).
Part 3 of 5 > Scantily Clad FUNimation
21 October 2006
Maximum Speed. Speed Grapher ad in MAXIM November 2006. Click to enlarge.
|MAXIM. Yup, that’s right, girls, girls and more girls. Lounging alongside Stuff and FHM, it’s probably one of the “Big 3” most-recognized almost-nude magazines for men. So if you’ve browsed through the latest Anime Insider or NewType USA at bookstores and magazines stands around town, you’ve probably blinked at its racy pulse-quickening covers.
But why am I bothering to mention this? Earlier this mid-October week, while flipping through my latest delivery of MAXIM (November 2006; cover price of $4.99), I inevitably landed on page 165. But not-so-predictably, my eyes widened — behind the cologne insert and beside the “shameless plugs” for batteries, beard trimmers and beer — at the 1/3-page ad for the dark-edged secret-society anime Speed Grapher (DVD Volume #3; Amazon.com price of $26.99).
Whoa! An anime advertisement, not in another anime or videogame magazine, but in a leading men’s magazine!
Created by GONZO, originally broadcasted on Japanese TV in 2005 and licensed by FUNimation in 2006, Speed Grapher depicts the shadowy lives of a weathered-and-weary war photographer and a sheltered-and-sad underground goddess as they take their twisted odyssey through a decadent world of conspiracy, corruption, sex and violence. Having watched this adult-geared series, I must admit that MAXIM readers make perfectly logical targets. I mean, if I noticed this ad, how many others might?
So have similar ads appeared in similar mags before this one? While I can’t be sure of FHM, I perused through my previous MAXIM and Stuff issues since April 2006. And guess what? Other than a rare star-studded feature — Samuel L. Jackson as Afro Samurai — I discovered one other clearly anime-titled ad! This time, on page 79 of Stuff (September 2006; cover price of $4.99), a similar 1/3-page ad boasts the gothic-sci-fi vampire anime Trinity Blood (DVD Volume #1; Amazon.com price of $26.99). Just like Speed Grapher, Trinity Blood was created by GONZO, originally broadcasted on Japanese TV in 2005 and licensed by FUNimation. Its blood-soaked tale portrays the ever-deepening struggle between vampires and humans, which threatens to destroy the delicate balance of a post-apocalyptic world. Likewise, with its stylishly violent content, I don’t doubt that Stuff readers make just-as-logical targets.
But it’s rather revealing that the anime titles in both ads were licensed by the same entertainment entity. In any case, I’m keeping my eyes peeled. Now that FUNimation has taken these bold new steps into “lad mag” publications, let’s see if these ads are on the leading edge of a growing trend… or just random blips on the radar screen.
Part 4 of 5 > Ghost of a Memory
04-06 October 2006
Motoko Kusanagi‘s “external mnemonic device” from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Click to enlarge.
|What drives me as an anime figure collector? Why spend money on figures and not simply anime DVD titles or CD soundtracks?
Well, to paraphrase Harunobu Madarame, the quintessential otaku character from the Genshiken manga and anime, my quick answer is: “I buy what I like because it’s a true reflection of who I am.” Unfortunately, this still doesn’t quite specify the reason why figures and not something else.
Digging deeper, my foremost reason likely stems from a concept most profoundly introduced to me in the cutting-edge cyberpunk Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series. In one touching scene, Batou hands a wristwatch back to its owner, that is, his Section 9 partner and superior officer, Motoko Kusanagi. After everything they’ve fought and endured, their quiet conversation ticks towards what her wristwatch means to her, especially as her only “external mnemonic device.” In other words, in a cyber-enhanced future where networked digital memories can be duplicated, rewritten or deleted at any instant, and where the definition of her reality and identity is so fluid, her simple watch serves as a solid and undeletable material reminder of her own unique memory, personality and individuality.
Similarly, in today’s information era, where music, movies and television broadcasts can — legally or illegally — be copied, downloaded, viewed and copied again without any intermediate physical carrier-container, I’d say that the “tactile” or “hold in my hands” value of a solid DVD or CD has clearly diminished for me. However, while such tactile value has plummeted, it seems that the drive to grasp a physical reminder of that tune, film or show in my own hands still remains. From my perspective, a not-so-endless not-so-easily-copyable 1/8-scale PVC figure depicting Saki Kasukabe from the Genshiken anime carries more value to me — in terms of my memory, personality and individuality — than owning the endlessly-copyable digital video files of the series.
So what does this all mean? Well, after coming across over a hundred titles, and over a thousand episodes, I’ve seen enough anime stories either touching or tackling the loss of memory or personality — including Blood+, Chobits, DearS, Ergo Proxy, Ghost in the Shell, Haibane Renmei, Kiddy Grade, Lain, Noir, Onegai (Please) Twins, RahXephon, Solty Rei, and To Heart — to safely say that the ideas of personal memories and cherishing them as long as we can, not only in our hearts but also through photographs, souvenirs, or other mementos, is firmly ingrained in anime and manga storytelling. In my case, beyond digital discs or files, collecting anime figures simply reflects my own way of remembering the anime titles and characters I cherish.
Part 5 of 5 > Filipinas & Vietnamese Dishes
Ah, yes. Now we come to the final randomly-Asian food-frenzied portion of the broadcast, lol. After a long-drawn and hard-fought Tiger Team Monday, I decided to visit my friend Vanessa in the newest office building across the parking lot. At about 7pm, here she is at her desk, avoiding the rowdy kids at home, hehe. Coincidentally enough, my company headquarters might be moving into her building within the next year or so!
Hey, pretty cool and stylish conference room!
Later in the week, Thursday to be exact, my colleague Melanie (meh-LAH-nee) treated me to a belated-birthday lunch at the Vietnamese noodle-soup place “Jenni Pho” where I believe “pho” (fuh) means “beef noodle soup”, hehe. Here’s a night-time shot from the customer-review website, Yelp.com.
Such weird-looking spring rolls!
Here’s Melanie, showing me some of the finer points of mixing Vietnamese sauces, lol.
Wow, beef-noodle soup and some kind of shrimp-noodle dish. I didn’t even know that the noodles were hidden beneath the shrimp until Melanie told me, lol. Doh!
Here’s Melanie, tossing some sauce into her “pho” beef-noodle soup, lol.
Hmm, impressing myself with my mediocre chopstick techniques!
More sauces. For those weird-but-tasty spring rolls.
My “pho” beef and noodles! Mmm-mmm, good!
My shrimp and beef! Mouth watering yet?
Yet another shot of “pho” beef and noodles!
Yet another shot of shrimp and beef!
Too much food!
Yet not enough!
And we’re done! So, my Tasteless Toyboxers, what did you think? Did our full-scale fighter-bomber assault destroy your dried-up defenses? Did our animated apocalypse of propagandized “pop anime”, otaku-oriented merchandising, scantily-clad “funimation”, and ghostly cyber-digital memories fry your brains? Did our fiesty Filipina gals and tasty Vietnamese dishes fulfill your appetite? Or did our delicious inter-dimensional serving of high-res “Clannad” and “Clannad After Story” wallpapers finally satisfy your hunger? In any case, let’s thank Ushio, Nagisa, Motoko, Saki, Vanessa, Melanie and Jenni-pho for their profoundly-precious guest appearances, hehe. I’m sure that the propaganda and pop anime were just as perfectly delicious, lol. Till next broadcast. Peace. Out.