A pinch of Spice and Wolf…that’s good enough for me

“Seven apples on a witch’s tree, with seven seeds to plant inside of me”
(And yes, I know that these lyrics and the image don’t match – so sue me)

Kraft Lawrence is a traveling merchant whose dream is to own his own shop, for which he often needs to risk hard earned profits to obtain the larger amounts needed for this endeavour. One day, however, a strange wolf who takes the appearance of a young girl, appears before him. What changes will this one encounter bring to their lives?

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「C」: Dream as though you will live forever, live as though you will die today

The noitaminA timeslot and its Fuji TV producer got a tonne of flak last year for some of the shows that showed up in the timeslot. Fractale is one. 「C」 – or, to use it’s subtitle as well, 「C」: the money of soul and possibility control – is another. I don’t really remember all the different things they lambasted 「C」 for, but some of the criticisms that stand out were that the female character designs were generally too ‘moe’, and the one-on-one bouts were a little too reminiscent of shounen fighting anime like Dragonball and Bleach.

Personally, I wonder if this preoccupation with how 「C」 represented a further step away from the noitaminA they wanted to see blinded these viewers from looking for value in the show itself. Frankly speaking, 「C」 is arguably the only anime – perhaps even the only TV show – of 2011 that has presented questions so relevant to life in the countries of the developed world.

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On the current state of Otakuism

Akira over at Behind the Nihon Review last year wrote a rather pointed article on what Otakus are like, taking an interesting interview with Yamamoto Yutaka, where the director of Kannagi critiques the state of the anime industry and several of its most illustrious celebrities, as the point of focus.

Several of Yamamoto-sensei’s critiques are spot on. Anime is an elitist hobby where most products are catered to a relatively small group of otaku. And most of these otaku typically watch a narrow range of these shows (mecha, slice-of-life, parady, action fantasy etc), taking pride in their choices as a way of distinguishing themselves from the rest of the drabble. I can’t say that I haven’t done that from time to time, whether unconsciously – I honestly forgot recently that drama CDs really only appeal to people who can understand a decent amount Japanese (exception: fujoshi) – or otherwise. Sitting down with my brother to watch an episode over dinner recently, I realised quite belatedly that one reason I enjoy some of the series I do is because I don’t really need to rely on subs anymore. There are also plenty of nuances that are often lost in translation, such as feminine speech and degrees of familiarity, the latter being especially important for character relationships.

Yamamoto-sensei also notes that there is a huge lack of originality within the industry, as most series that succeed are franchises or based on already successful original material. But each series typically appeals to a particular niche, rarely allowing so-called outsiders any enjoyment or benefit from them. He picks out – rather accurately, IMHO – the relatively transparency of the industry, the closeness between fans and creators that results in series being catered for specific audiences, for this exclusiveness. And this tendency can only feed into itself to further isolate otaku from the rest of the world.

We should, however, note that this tendency applies to most TV shows around the world. CSI, Lost, Prison Break and South Park all cater to particular audiences. Even the Simpsons can be considered exclusive in that it contains many jokes that only long-time followers will pick up, though it still provides varying degrees of entertainment for the rest of us. But comparing Western industries with Eastern ones can be dangerous, because there are many differences between them, not least of all in terms of revenue. The Japanese anime industry is probably more similar to the Western film industry, in that revenue comes not on the back of advertising but rather through product sales, be it box-office receipts, DVDs or figures.

As such, we could perhaps say that the anime industry could take a leaf out of the book of the American film industry. Many directors and popular actors often balance their pop-corn movies with independent projects, for the profits from the former often enable them to make the critically acclaimed pieces that appeal to fans and other niche markets. For the fans however, committing to a 13 DVD 26-episode series is far more demanding on one’s monetary resources than buying one movie DVD, especially since there are so many different studios churning out 20 or more series every cour. Furthermore, anime still has such a stigma that producers probably feel that they have to appeal first to that core group of buyers that will help keep them afloat. Anime series and films with broad appeal do exist, what with series like Naruto and Bleach, but they are not series that can break down the walls of people who still see animation as something for children. And despite what Yamamoto-sensei says about its more universal appeal, Kannagi’s art and story probably aren’t going to convert too many more people.

What would? Perhaps, as Yamamoto-sensei implies, Miyazaki Hayao could do so if he would only embrace the medium where his is the name on even the most casual viewers lips. However, even if you appeal to the general public, how does that translate to success, or even survival in a world driven by sales? The question actually becomes one of how to appeal to a society that has limited disposable income to spend on far too many distractions. If we think about this logically, in terms of supply and demand, the industry should decrease the number of series and raise the quality of those they actually produce. Whilst an influx of originality would be welcome, the industry priority should probably be to recognise the limitations of its potential consumers, and regulate itself accordingly by reducing production in the first place.

Book Reviews – Schindler’s List and Freakonomics

Schindler’s List (Thomas Keneally)

Since 2004, I’ve had lists of ‘books…’ and ‘movies I intend to see’. Schindler’s List has always been on the latter list, and thus by default, on the former as well. Haven’t seen the film yet, but NK had the book, so… Read more of this post