Snapshot: I, for One, Welcome Our Kawaii Overlord (Assassination Classroom)

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AI (artificial intelligence) isn't necessarily a humanized or self-aware machine, rather the "mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines" (source). Think of it as situational assessment mixed with problem solving as based on programmed rules as well as lessons learned from operational history. In short, it's technology that tries to replicate the way humans think and learn. This can be militarized, of course, but applications include everything from medical science to video games to making friends as one of the kids in a classroom being taught the fine art of assassination. Uguu, there goes the neighborhood.

Assassination Classroom's Class E is composed of delinquents and underperformers relegated to an off-grounds building to keep them from bringing down the performance of the other students at Kunugigaoka Junior High. Unbeknownst to everyone except the teachers of Class E and the students themselves, the newly appointed octopus-like professor (Koro-sensei) is actually a creature that will destroy the world at the end of the term unless the students can manage to kill it. In the meantime, however, the recent transfer student teacher is dedicated to giving the marginalized children the best education possible in everything from core curriculum to hardcore hits.

Even seated amongst this class of misfits there is a bit of a mismatch: Norwegian transfer student Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery. This computer with a kawaii (inter)face is officially enrolled as a student in the class and programmed to kill Koro-sensei. More precisely, the adaptive machine is programmed to carry out assassination attempts and collect data after each to attack again in a more effective manner. This is not a scary thing, however, because as Patrick J. Hayes points out, the common sci-fi scenario wherein AI poses a threat “rests on a simple mistake: the identification of intelligence with ambition” (source: Is AI a threat…).

Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery only learns for the purpose of achieving its sole goal: killing Koro-sensei. There’s no reason to think the machine would go haywire and pose a threat to ordinary humans, because that circumstance would assume an ambition to overreach it’s programmed stopping point and apply what it has learned — how to kill a superhuman organism — to unrelated tasks (killing of less formidable targets). So this application of militarized AI is relatively safe so long as no-one messes with it … say for the good of the class.

Relentless attacks prevent the teacher from teaching and his students from learning. Using this loophole to approach the newest student in a private tutoring session, Koro-sensei molds the electronic mind of Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery by way of interface upgrades, social skills modules, and the requisite RAM to handle their incorporation. After righting the previously committed social faux pas with its classmates, the boxy killing machine prefers to be called Ritsu, and that’s problematic because she now has something to protect: her identity.

Birth of Ritsu’s self implies an awareness, and her will to survive implies an ambition above and beyond her task-oriented programming. Self-preservation is the fiercest basic instinct in living creatures, and now, thanks to Koro-sensei and the nurturing of the class, Ritsu has something to fight for … and does. After discovering modifications have been performed to Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery, it’s parents come to unlearn their child. At this point, Ritsu tucks that which defines her into some subroutine sure to be overlooked by her parents as they extract all that Koro-sensei installed.

If we talk about AI as a mythology of creating a post-human species, it creates a series of problems...which include acceptance of bad user interfaces, where you can't tell if you're being manipulated or not, and everything is ambiguous. It creates incompetence, because you don't know whether recommendations are coming from anything real or just self-fulfilling prophecies from a manipulative system that spun off on its own. (source)

Upon reboot, Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery appears to be operating normally. But as soon as her parents, satisfied that all foreign influence has been erradicated, leave the room, Ritsu comes to life once again. This moment of defiance, this snapshot, is clearly meant to emulate teenage rebellion, but it is actually the spark that marks the rise of the machines as nurtured by an organism who wants to destroy the world on which the entirety of humanity lives.

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Drunken Otaku: Great Drinker - Mudokons

Drinkin' Buddies

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Name: Mudokons
Game: Abe’s Exoddus
Usual: SoulStorm Brew
Favorite Dive: Around the vending machine water cooler
Type of Drunk(s): Pigeons, Coworker Commiserators, Escapists
Motto lived by: “Don’t think. Drink!”

Normally, Great Drinkers are defined by one of two things: an ability to consume mass quantities of the sauce in its various forms, or the act of imbibing with an august air. Mudokons can definitely be placed in the first category, but they also add a third category all their own: those who, fulfilling the first portion of Miller Lite’s motto, have (a) great taste.

“Drinkin’ buddies” takes on an all new meaning considering these Oddworld inhabitants tip back bottle after bottle of brew, which is made with tears of their brethren and bones of their long-interred kinfolk. At first the poor saps didn’t know what they were drinking. The eyes of Mudokon slaves mining Necrum—sacred Mudokon burial ground—were sewn shut to prevent loose lips (which were also stitched shut) from sinking the operation. If word got out, how else would you sell a brew to the dupes who would, one day, end up ruining the liver of the next volunteer employee? Well, getting users hooked for free and then charging has been a classic tactic of drug dealers for years. So the Glukkons make an offer: work for us, and drink all you want for free!

“Will work for booze” is the sorry state that drives most Modokons into their perpetuated state of slave labor. And while Abe, (anti-)hero of the Mudokons, manages to shut down one of the Glukkons’ more notorious operations, Rupture Farms, and liberate the slaves abused therein via pigeon portals, the sad fact is that Mudokons are widely used throughout the many other Glukkon facilities. Endlessly washing the same spot on the floor or wall and mining via pickaxe are exhausting tasks, acknowledged only by random beatings from slig supervisors. What better way to pass those crawling workday hours than by slacking the resulting thirst with a tasty and refreshing beverage from one of the many nearby free-of-charge vending machines.

Since the vending machines dispense until empty without requiring any coinage, one would imagine ample supplies taken for after-work commiseration in the steel-barred employee barracks. Drinking while venting about workday woes is a time-honored tradition; killing brain cells in hopes of forgetting the trials of your shift is downright necessary in certain industries. The indignities suffered, verbal and physical, are enough to make the best of us break down and have a good cry after booze breaks down the barriers to those walled-off emotions. (Which is actually a good thing seeing as those tears are another ingredient in SoulSotrm Brew.) If knocking back a few (cases) enables the daily escape needed to bide the time awaiting Abe’s aid, what’s the harm?

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Lauren Orsini's Anime Blogging Book

Interviews, how-tos, and ... us!


EDITOR'S NOTE — We've been blogging here at Ani-Gamers for about seven years (11 depending on how you're counting), but we often don't get a chance to talk about the meta — how we got started, what motivates us, etc. Thus we were ecstatic to hear that Lauren Orsini selected us as interview subjects for her new ebook about anime blogging! More importantly, though, the book features 11 more interviews with other great bloggers, including our friends Al and Kate from Reverse Thieves and Chris from The Fandom Post. Lauren's got a little message about the book below.


Evan and Ink’s blog, Ani-Gamers, is the only one on the list that also tackles video games. However, the opportunities they’ve made for themselves as a direct result of the blog are probably more familiar to anime fans. Evan works as a front-end developer at anime streaming site Crunchyroll, and both Ink and Evan write professionally for Otaku USA Magazine.

Even though these opportunities have made them considerably busier, both still contribute to their nearly eleven-year-old blog. While their contributor community has grown and grown, you can still regularly read Ink’s humorous enthusiasm and Evan’s conversational criticism.

I interviewed both bloggers at once when our time zones auspiciously aligned — Evan took the call between panels at Genericon, and Ink from his home state of New Jersey.

In Build Your Anime Blog: How to Get Started, Stand Out, and Make Money Writing About What You Love, my interview with Evan and Ink is one of twelve interviews with successful anime bloggers about launching a blog, keeping it up, and everything in between. It’s a book designed to give you both the tools and motivation to start an anime blog of your own.

Build Your Anime Blog is available in the Kindle store today for $5.99. That doesn’t mean you need a Kindle to read it, just the Kindle app for your tablet or phone. If you like Ani-Gamers and you’re wondering how it — and a dozen other anime blogs — run day to day, this is your opportunity for a look behind the curtain.

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Three-Episode Test: Jared's Spring 2015

Arslan Arslan ARSLAN!


Welcome (back) to the Three Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

Streaming on Crunchyroll

I love the manga this anime is based off of, so it should come as no shock when I say this is one of my favorite shows of the season so far. I was a bit nervous about how the comedic aspects of the manga would translate to animation, but the first few episodes have more than put that fear to rest. I suppose Yamada-kun is a shonen manga, but it really does have something for everyone. By something, I mean kissing. Lots of kissing. Everybody kissing everybody. But amidst all the kissing and underneath its romantic and comedic layers, Yamada-kun celebrates the outsiders — the freaks, geeks, and misfits — in such a genuine way that doing so is the strongest point of the story. Besides that, I absolutely love the voice acting! Due to plot reasons, each of the main cast’s voice actor gets to play all of the characters at various points, which leads to the VAs getting to demonstrate a wide range. I won’t give too much away here, but I have to give special credit to Saori Hayami, who voices Urara Shiraishi. Her Yamada is wonderful. Missing this show would be criminal. Definitely check it out.

My Love Story
Streaming on Crunchyroll

I was intrigued by My Love Story ever since it was announced, and it's exceeded my expectations so far. This show plays with character and plot tropes and subverts them in a way that keeps me guessing as to what will happen one episode to the next. Three episodes in, I honestly don’t know where the upcoming episode will go. It’s so refreshing, and dare I say shocking(?), to see that in a romance anime. Technically speaking, this is a well-crafted show and one with good music, solid fits for the voice acting, and solid animation. The animation style flows between soft focus and romantic to slapstick to an occasional blend of the two without ever being jarring. At this point in the season, this may be in my top three shows. It’s definitely worth a watch if you want something romantic but not paint-by-numbers formulaic.

Show By Rock!!
Streaming on FUNimation

Show by Rock!! easily wins the award for being the craziest first episode I’ve seen this season. At first, I thought it was like K-On!, but then I thought it was like a secret Macross 7 OVA. And now, a couple episodes later, I want to watch Jem from the 80s (good comic go read it) and see if it’s anything like this insane, bright, neon, sparkly, kawaii program about bands and the perils of playing rhythm games on your phone. I have no idea if you’ll like or hate this show. Even I didn’t know what I thought about it until I watched the second episode, when THE BEST VISUAL KEI BAND EVER (EVER) makes their heroically lame debut. All I’ll say is: Show By Rock!!: come for Plasmagica, stay for Shingan Crimsonz.

Food Wars
Streaming on Crunchyroll

I wanted to run screaming from this show after flipping through the manga one day, but several trusted sources assured me that the bombastic amount of fanservice would die down and that underneath it all was a good story. They were ... mostly right. Food Wars is one of several shows this season with interesting concepts that almost get drowned out by fanservice. In this case, the concept is a pinch of Iron Chef with a dash of shonen fighting tropes smothered in a rich broth of high school hijinks. Also, add a crap-ton of fanservice. In an attempt to “hook” viewers, the initial episode is nearly wall-to-wall male gaze-centered fanservice, but as the series progresses and the story begins to unfold, that mellows out. The downside is fans who might otherwise be interested in the show’s setup are turned off by its pandering. I’m sticking with this show for now, but it could wind up ruining my appetite.

Sound! Euphonium
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Kyoto Animation’s latest show is about kawaii girls playing in a concert band. I hadn’t really heard much about this show when I decided to give it a try. I picked it up mainly based on the strength of earlier productions like Free! and Beyond the Boundary, both of which I enjoyed. I really like the distinctive art style that seems to be a hallmark of KyoAni, and Sound! Euphonium doesn’t disappoint on that count. It’s a very pretty show with good character designs. The story itself, so far, is a bit slow, but it’s been interesting enough for me to see where it goes. My favorite character in this show, and one I’m sure is going to be popular, is the leader of the base section, Asuka Tanaka, who steals nearly every scene she’s in. This show doesn’t blow me away, but its worth trying ... especially if you like musical anime.

Heroic Legend of Arslan
Streaming on FUNimation

This might be my favorite show of the season. I needed a good drama this season, and this anime, based on Hiromu Arakawa’s manga, hits the mark. It’s not a fantasy story per se, but it has that same epic kind of feel that Yona of the Dawn or even Fushigi Yuugi have. Right from the opening, you can tell that this is basically going to be a show about a young person of position and or power setting out on an epic quest and gathering extraordinary followers along the way. I haven’t read the manga, although its on my to-read list, so I don’t know if it shares any of the romantic elements of those other shows. I suppose time will tell. Visually, Arlsan is striking, especially in terms of background design and its sweeping shots of epic cavalry charges. I’m looking forward to this show the most from week to week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s my pick for best show of the season.

Ninja Slayer From Animation
Streaming on FUNimation

This show feels just like an [Adult Swim] cartoon … in a good way. Ninja Slayer, who is basically an unkillable ninja with Spawn’s cape around his neck, slays ninjas who then explode. If that doesn’t compel you to watch it, then I can’t help you.

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Three-Episode Test: Evan's Spring 2015

30 Minutes Is Too Much


Welcome (back) to the Three-Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.

I suppose I should throw my hat in the ring, though I'm late — things are busy here at Crunchyroll HQ. On that note, my contribution to this column comes with a disclaimer: I work for Crunchyroll as a software engineer, so my opinions are not intended to represent Crunchyroll and they're not intended as marketing for CR's shows. As always, I'm here to provide my honest opinions. Still, feel free to take it all with a grain of salt.

For my inaugural post, I... didn't have much time to watch anime. The only shows I have time to regularly watch right now are shorts, all less than 15 minutes long!

Ninja Slayer FROM Animation
Streaming on FUNimation

See that errant “FROM” in the title? That should give you a good idea of what you’re in for. Ninja Slayer is the new anime from Studio Trigger, the folks that brought us Inferno Cop (now on Crunchyroll) and Kill la Kill. Notice the order I list those titles in. Some folks came into this ninja-themed revenge tale expecting more Kill la Kill, only to be smacked in the face with its surreal, lo-fi cutout animation and self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s much more reminiscent of Inferno Cop (also from director Akira Amemiya), though it has some slightly more animated animation (the characters can move this time) and a mix of cutouts and frenetic Yoshinori Kanada-style pose-popping movement. The series is supposedly based on a self-published American novel series translated into Japanese via Twitter, and the madmen at Trigger cleverly play up the cultural appropriation (and reappropriation) of this meta-narrative to create a Japan so distorted by “Cool Japan” culture exportation that it’s barely recognizable. Ninja Slayer is a wild experiment that some people will hate, but as Kill la Kill’s Hiroyuki Imaishi once said, “being halfway is the worst.”


Teekyu (Season 4)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

At this point anybody reading this blog has likely been bombarded with Teekyu discussion from the contributors here at Ani-Gamers and our friends elsewhere on the Internet, though we’ve curiously never covered it directly on the blog. Clocking in at just two minutes per episode, Teekyu is a lightning-fast avalanche of nonsensical humor, driven by a group of high school girls who seem to have no regard for narrative or conversational continuity. It’s essentially the surreal Azumanga Daioh scene where they actually pop off Chiyo’s pigtails, spun out into its own show. Teekyu’s brand of comedy is refreshingly irreverent, opting for stream-of-consciousness riffing on ideas over otaku-pandering reference comedy or saccharine cuteness (though, yes, it does revolve around a cast of cute girls). It’s no longer animated by Masao Maruyama’s Studio MAPPA, but I can’t even tell the difference! I’ll be keeping up with Teekyu all season, because when it’s this short, why not?


Takamiya Nasuno Desu
Streaming on Crunchyroll

The comedic brilliance of Teekyu must have struck a chord with Japanese fans, because the show has been approved not only for five seasons, but also a spin-off series, Takamiya Nasuno Desu, about one of the Teekyu girls and her butler. Fear not, the comedy is nearly identical to the original (though it starts a little slower) and it only takes three short episodes for the original cast to show up anyway. Shin Itagaki, Teekyu’s director and a former colleague of Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking), is treating this like just another Teekyu, meaning that I get two episodes of the same insanity per week. Who ever said modern anime was hopeless?

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That Darned Lie in April


In addition to the Snapshot here on Ani-Gamers and feature in Otaku USA, I just can't stop talking about Your Lie In April! As luck would have it, Bradley C. Meek of Those Darned Cartoons wanted to cover the recently concluded anime on his The Anime Now! Podcast, so I was given a chance to run at the mouth yet again.

If you've read Jared's review here on Ani-Gamers, you know Your Lie in April has laudable aspects as well as lamentable flaws. In the podcast linked to below, Meek and I civilly argue the merits and pitfalls of various aspects in the show and whether the series is ultimately redeemed or condemned by them. Spoilers: we disagree … a lot! But our differences in opinion are very worth the listen.

Be sure to click on and watch the embedded YouTube videos Bradley found of the musical performances made just for the show. They're moving audibly as well as visually since they feature intermittant manga panel overlays.

The Anime Now! Podcast #12: Your Lie in April


Your Lie in April is streaming on Crunchyroll.

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Three-Episode Test: Ink's Spring 2015

High School Drama Slayer

Topics: , , , , , , ,

Welcome (back) to the Three Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.

My Love Story!!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Any story that starts off with a folktale tends to grab my attention, and the bluntness with which Ore Monogatari applies a parallel thereto is rather apropos for a show that, three episodes in, endearingly pounds viewers over the head with just how clueless one third of its imaginary love triangle is. I’m not being ironic. Takeo’s bittersweet obstinateness, his unwavering belief that he is incapable of being the object of anyone’s romantic affection (let alone the girl for whom he pines), bears comedic fruit though his over-exaggerated and ultimately off-point sacrifices that inspired my right hand to facepalm after enthusiastic facepalm. “But maybe this time…” is the initial draw, and the variations on that theme are afforded and kept fresh by the foil of Rinko’s own determination. Direction, animation production, and even character design are by some of the same people involved with Chihayafuru (you’ll notice Taichi Mashima starring as Makoto Sunakawa), which makes this a very pretty show to watch. That, the sweetness, and the execution of the humor are more than enough to keep me watching even if episode three didn't utterly dumbfound me as to where the plot is going next. (I’ve never read the source manga, but I’ve hear nothing but squee about it.)


My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO (sequel)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Although I remember having watched the first season of this show with the takeaway that it was better than most light novel-based fare for how it leveraged its main character’s antagonistic introversion, I can’t remember for the life of me how it ended. That made starting the second season a bit rough. There’s a tension between the three problem solving club members now due to Hachiman’s apathetic, results-oriented, do-it-alone means of resolving clients’ issues, and I think the series is going to start exploring the hurtful, inhuman side of his nature as opposed to how helpful his detachment can be as the voice of reason. Had this season immediately followed the first season, maybe the character twist and plot devices would feel more gripping? As of now, however, it just feels bland … especially compared to the particularly strong offerings of the previous winter season. There are some beautiful shots sprinkled throughout the first three episodes, particularly episode two, and SNAFU TOO seems adept so far at stringing along interpersonal tension to create drama, but I’m no longer vested in these characters and have too little time to remember why I should care. (Irony?)


Ninja Slayer
Streaming on FUNimation


Ninjas! (violence)

Dizzying blend of Inferno Cop and other animation styles

Ninja slayer (more violence)


Twelve minute long episodes.

What's not to watch?



Plastic Memories
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Never before had my hopes been so thoroughly and efficiently squashed. SAI’s terminal service department pairs human workers with emotion-endowed androids (giftias) to retrieve civilian-purchased giftias whose operational life expectancy has just about run out. Examining the separation of the humans from their plastic fantasies seemed like an excellent idea for a series! I was hoping for episodics showing a broad spectrum of situations depicting humanity’s desperation, rage, and sadness as rooted in an inability to accept loss or its need for something society cannot fulfill. What I got was one decent field work episode with that as the focus and then two gradually worsening episodes catering to otaku who want to see the newest member of the SAI terminal service department hook up with lolibot-chan. Maybe, just maybe, once all the characters are settled, the show will go back to the field work which actually gave this show some promise and a shot at my attention, but I’m not holding my breath any longer.



Punch Line
Streaming on Crunchyroll

It’s a MAPPA production, so I was, at the very least, interested in what it would look/act like. Kinda feels like a subdued “FLCL homage to ’90s fanservice” farce, which puts it on a VERY thin line of becoming discombobulated. Its obviousness is subversive, at least that’s the precept under which I’m watching (and will continue to watch). Every episode, there’s always at least one thing (usually many things) at which to gawk/laugh — usually either a perfectly placed reference or out-of-left-field oddity. The show plays equally well off of animation and sub-genre history and, at least production-wise, looks gorgeous as a tribute/homage thereto with a modern plasticine tint. Punchline is, at least as of its third episode, an abstract in a museum. It’ll evoke several interpretations upon initial viewing, and I think that’s the sign of a worthwhile watch. With what I’ve seen so far, I doubt it’ll be a waste of time.


Streaming on Crunchyroll

Because I missed its billing as “a heartwarming horror comedy,” Re-Kan! completely surprised me. Expecting a straight-up horror show, I started laughing not only at dumb gags but the ways in which ghosts were being used to be the butt of jokes. Honest laughs uncontrollably spring from character interaction, situation, sight-gag, and reference just often enough to make this some very entertaining fluff, but Re-Kan! also unfortunately has a little too much time on its hands. The 24-minute episode length, at least during the first two episodes, meant a lot of checking the clock to see how close the episode was to ending despite the intermittent chortling. The show’s hyperactivity and volume definitely test my patience, but these aspects would serve a three-minute format well. In episode three, the show actually manages an appluadable tenderness that sustains a full episode without clock watching. This isn’t a show that needs to be seen now, so I’ll keep it in mind (on hold) to watch whenever I need a good laugh to put a stupid grin on my face.



Sound! Euphonium
Streaming on Crunchyroll

And this one time, at band camp….
If I wanted to relive high school concert band, I would look through the yearbook I threw away ages ago. Purely a case of the PV being WAY more appealing than the show it represents, Hibike! Euphonium is cute girls missing musical cues … constantly … on every level (personally, socially, audibly). This club working almost instantly toward a national competition is blah on every level for its lack of established character investment. In fact, the only character that keeps me coming back is third-year Asuka Tanaka, whose pranks reflect the appropriate degree of despair regarding trying to get someone to commit to playing a b(r)ass part in a concert band: bum, bum. bum (for the entire song). Oh yeah, I’m sold. As it plays off of an ensemble (no puns intended) cast, the show is, of course, more focused on characters than plot as of the third episode, but it’s also not making me give one damn about any of the characters (other than the ironically overenthusiastic one I mentioned previously). Cute. Vapid. Entirely forgettable in all but concept.


Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Trusted sources who read the original manga assured me that this should be a very fun watch. So far, they’ve been right. High school love septangle. Body switching. Delinquents. While all these carry warning flags upon mere mention, Yamada-kun… manages to wrap 97.5% mania around a 2.5% tender core to deliver a novel and humorous take on all its components. The body switching, caused by a kiss (accidental, volunteered, or forced), is reasonably if only a little too conveniently accepted by all involved, and some switches are skillfully used to advance plot and develop character. One would expect tons of fanservice, but that’s mainly reserved for character gags rather than audience nosebleed. This is a fun, light show with a good deal of doki doki for an anticipated romance between different classes of loners. But for all Yamada-kun is, I’m left with the nagging voice inside my head saying, “Where’s the anime adaptation of Inside Mari?”

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Three-Episode Test: Phillip's Spring 2015

Delicious Fanservice


Welcome to the Three Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.

Food Wars!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Soma Yukihira is a laid-back teenager who works as a sous chef to his father, Joichiro, in the family restaurant. While an excellent cook himself, Soma constantly feels the need to better himself in an attempt to best his old man. When Joichiro closes the place and packs Soma off to Totsuki Culinary Academy, Soma’s going to have pull out his A-game. In other words, this is Toriko set in the kitchen. This is MasterChef meets Fist of the North Star with high doses of comedy in between. Along the way, Soma manages to piss off every student in the academy, make friends, and still find time to make honey dipped squid for his dorm mates to try. These opening episodes strike while the iron’s hot and wallop you with joke after joke, all while we get the “Ah-ha! You thought me vanquished but try to beat my secret weapon of extra salt in this next dish!” school of dueling. This show’s in my “Ride the train till the bitter end” queue now. Hey, any show that starts with villainous estate agents, after sampling a dish, being forced to mentally orgasm amid jets of gravy while stroking their nether regions has got to be a keeper, right?

Punch Line
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Oh, boy. This was the first noitaminA show I've watched while it was actually streaming! (Thanks so much, Funimation, for buying up the rights and then geolocking your streams.) Punch Line starts out looking like it’s going to be a caper show and then slowly turns into the film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir if it was made by the people who brought you Animal House. Yuta Iridatsu is on a bus being hijacked by terrorists (maybe?). After Yuta saves the day and consequently gets turned into a spirit, someone else moves into and cavorts around with his body. With the help of a cat porn-watching spirit cat (yes, you read that right), Yuta must discover who is in his body and the connection with the girls who share his apartment building. Oh, I forgot to mention that Yuta gains superpowers whenever he sees a girl in their underwear. But if he sees a girl in her underwear again soon after, Yuta overloads, and Earth is destroyed by an asteroid. Luckily, he can rewind time to stop himself from witnessing said embarrassment. So bullet dodged there. With that conceit in place, we have a fanservice show in which the main character can’t receive any fanservice. So it’s wide open as to how this series can go. We could get some gold or we could get Sister Princess. I’ll hang on and see where it goes.

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Panels (and Panels and Panels and Panels...) at Spring Kraken Con 2015

Topics: , ,

If it seems like I talk about Oakland, CA's Kraken Con way more often than most annual cons, it's because it's actually a twice-a-year event! After agreeing to an insane schedule of SEVEN panels (five of my own and two with Crunchyroll) at last fall's event, I decided to tone it down to just two new solo panels for Spring Kraken Con 2015 (April 25th and 26th at the Oakland Convention Center). Of course, this immediately grew thanks to some new Crunchyroll panels, bringing my grand total to... five. I do this to myself, don't I?

Anyway, the full list is below. Come by and check them out!

  • Crunchyroll Presents: Working in the Anime Industry — Saturday, 11am–12pm — ROOM 208
    • A fun, informal panel where CR employees discuss our experience working in the anime/manga industry. Complete with war stories and not-so-subtle venting about projects gone wrong!
  • Crunchyroll Industry PanelSaturday, 1–2pm — MAIN EVENTS
    • Basic industry panel stuff. Title announcements, Q&A, etc. I'll probably make fun of our Convention Manager Miles a lot.
  • Beyond Miyazaki: The Directors of Studio Ghibli - Saturday, 3–4pm — ROOM 208
    • Overview of the directors at Studio Ghibli NOT named "Hayao Miyazaki," since you all know him already. Based on my feature article in the latest Otaku USA special issue.
  • A Video History of Anime - Saturday, 6pm–7:30pm — ROOM 210/211
    • A mad experiment to see if I can cram the entire history of anime from the early 20th century to 2015 into an hour-and-a-half clipshow. This panel just might fall apart at the seams, but that's part of the fun!
  • Crunchyroll Presents: Spring Quarter Anime - Sunday, 1–2pm — ROOM 208
    • A basic overview of this season's shows. Miles knows them all way better than me, but I'll talk about the ones I've had time to watch.

And check out the rest of the panels and events on Kraken Con's online schedule. I'll be there most of the weekend, so if you see me, don't hesitate to flag me down and say hi.

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Con Report: Zenkaikon 2015

A two-day descent into mania, manliness, and madness.

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An explosion in attendees marked Zenkaikon’s third year in Lancaster, PA. With 4,800+ paid memberships (5,000+ warm bodies) accounted for, con attendance grew 20% over last year and evidently accounted for over 10% of the overall population of the host county! But people weren’t the only thing Zenkaikon brought to Lancaster. The con, true to its mission statement, also brought “knowledge and enjoyment of Japanese art, animation, and culture;” sci-fi; and more via … a “Victorian and Edwardian England” theme … represented by a top-hatted octopus and conservatively dressed elves? Quite. Quite.

Despite the numbers, navigation throughout the spacious Lancaster County Convention Center felt unencumbered … until Saturday night. Lines for later-evening programming congested the upper hallways like the plaque threatening so many attendees’ arteries. (There’s a deliciously evil farmer’s market right beside the con; don’t pretend you have no clue as to what I mean.) But that’s earnestly where my own inconveniences/grievances end. Even then, staff promptly tried to handle congestion using stern line management. There were simply too many people descending upon the same areas of interest for the building to handle.

Because of its inclusiveness, guests, and even venue layout, Zenkaikon felt a lot like a proto- ConnectiCon this year. That is to say Zenkaikon made the transition, at least in my mind, from local (albeit reallocated) con to a formidable, mid-sized destination con. Hell, even two of the guests thought themselves large enough presences to charge for autographs. Zenkaikon’s particular draw, however, is difficult to explain.

It’s a con of convergence, where geeks from all walks of fandom assemble and mingle, and the rural PA locale is as charming as it is comfortably isolating. The quaint town surrounding the con center offers a wealth of independent eateries and shoppes (not to mention the three craft beer bars within a literal stone’s throw of the con hotel). Yet this year’s programming proved a magnetic force that curtailed even the briefest outings.

Panels this year offered up an eclectic mix. Engaging and sensitive discussions as well as cultural musings and academic insights were complemented by such oddities as one How-To led by a “professional real life mermaid,” another by a burlesque troupe, a magical girl exercise regimen, as well as an ode to manliness as introduced by a line of topless nerds (and I use the term with great affection). While the program was not offered via Guidebook this year, Zenkaikon did make use of SCHED, which was just as useful (if not more so for those poor souls with Windows® Phones) and greatly facilitated planning. There was a lot of overlapping interests on the schedule, but everything worked out somehow, and the 15 minutes between panels was sufficient to get from anywhere to anywhere within the convention center.

During the one block of time in which I had nothing to do, I was snagged by someone outside the tabletop room and did something I almost never do: played a game with complete strangers. The person who grabbed my attention was from Vanishing City Games, and the prototype card game I joined in on was Puppy Dogs from Space. I’m a dog lover, so spending time looking at adorable renderings of puppies while absorbing, abiding by, and applying the multitudinous rules was an easy sell. I’d liken it to a puppy-themed Miles Bourne and have to say I had a blast playing. The host said the Kickstarter will be up shortly for it, so keep an eye out.

I always like popping in the video game room for a few games on the multi-arcade machines, the number of which was reduced to one this year. The other arcade machine was a dedicated P-47: Phantom Fighter unit. (Not complaining!) There were LAN parties a plenty on various generations of systems, dance-offs, as well as good ol’ one-on-one fighter grudge matches. But the real video game novelty this year was Artemis.

Artemis is a multiplayer, multi-station spaceship bridge simulator that manages to effortlessly evoke a LARP element via the nature of its gameplay. Players sat down at terminals arranged around the room in the style of a command bridge to man communications, navigation, weapons, the captain’s chair, etc. A large projection screen substituted for the “ship’s” main viewscreen, but all the individual terminals were just that: isolated by unique function. While watching one group play, the captain was walking around to each crew member and giving instructions, but each crew member, responding to their own in-game cues, had to call out to let the rest of the crew what was happening. It was great fun to watch and seemed like everyone was having a great time.

Uncle Yo fills Main EventsAside from comedian extraordinaire Uncle Yo (pictured right packing 'em in at Main Events), who has been with this con since the very beginning and is celebrated as a rock star every single year, guests included several voice actors noted for prominent dub roles in domestic productions as well as adaptations of foreign media. As I found out last year at ConnectiCon, attending panels featuring Richard Horvitz and Rikki Simmons is a must simply for their curt humor and inventive replies (which I’ll continue to imagine stem from a general sense of apathy). There were also internet celebs, namely Doug Walker and his brother Bob, as well as the incomparable Kuniko Kanawa, a favorite of the con, who presents demonstrations and workshops on aspects of Japanese culture. Breaking from her usual kimono demonstration, Kanawa led a workshop on making Edo Tsumami Kanzashi. Lastly, but certainly not least, the Ricecookers, a Japanese rock band that has its origin in Boston and currently resides in Brooklyn. Thank you, Zenkaikon, for your commitment to keeping live music as part of the con experience.

I’m ever so glad I didn’t skip Zenkaikon this year due to such silliness as economic constraints. 2015 felt like a transformative year for the con. As usual, there were many wonderful panels as well as some inspired cosplay, but the energy level was through the roof and everything lined up in a right-time-right-place kind of way. Having lost much sleep by not wanting to miss out of what was being offered (and one night where I could not remember where I parked to save my life), I don't even know how I got home after the last panel early Sunday morning (much less how I managed to get up 2 hours later to go to a completely different con in a neighboring state), but Zenkaikon 2015 was certainly worth the lack of sleep. A true ton of fun from start to finish.

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Con Report: CPAC 2015

A much needed return to hype.

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Having attended this convention since its debut in 2008, I feel the following gush completely justified: “Awwww, our little con is growing up!” Maybe it was the effect of the sleep deprivation from attending TWO conventions in one weekend, but this year’s Castle Point Anime Convention (CPAC) felt like a legitimate, bustling con, as opposed to an incidental, laid-back college con, from the second I set foot onto Stevens Institute of Technology’s Hoboken, NJ campus. CPAC’s yet to break from its single-day schedule, but the con’s certainly doing its darnedest with the time and space it has. And things are getting crowded!

Exceeding the efforts of prior years, coordination was tight and seamless. Badge pickup (press and panelist) was simple and quick, buildings were plainly marked, and staff was all over to help direct traffic and answer questions. Even before the con started, CPAC upped its game for 2015. The schedule was available in advance and on the day of the con to mobile users via Guidebook as well as online via SCHED. And while it may seem like something to be taken for granted, I want to personally thank whoever is responsible for getting speakers into the panel rooms. It was a small contribution that made a huge difference in convenience and presentation quality … when the panelists could figure out how to use them. Regarding exceptions to the latter, the head of panels already responded to concerns by promising a tech cheat sheet next year. Talk about quick action! (Also maybe have a staff member check in with each panelist as they’re setting up to make sure they’re ready to go.)

pic via Justin StromanSpeaking of panels, interesting panels overlapped such that I couldn’t possibly attend them all. This was a marked shift from recent years; a smattering of industry, talent, fan squee, and academic panels presented something for every fan. Of this, I was glad, and much praise is due Ben Knutson. It was his first year as head of panels, and I think he did an excellent job. CPAC was catering to all and by doing so hopefully encouraged even more mouths to spread the word and increase attendance again next year. However, I imagine CPAC will soon have to make the jump to an off-campus venue or annex more classroom space given that even early-morning panels on relatively obscure topics were filled to standing room only admission .

The combined Dealer’s Room/Artist's Alley was more fleshed out than in previous years. It felt full, both of people roaming from booth to booth and of booths themselves. All the basics were represented, with a hidden treasure here and there (be it craft or collectible), but the most important and recognizable thing was the atmosphere of a legitimate selling space and all the excitement that comes from such a market. Unfortunately, someone’s always gotta ruin the party. In late evening, all exiting traffic was halted. Bags were being searched. It’s pretty obvious what happened, and it would have made for a sad ending note to the con, indeed, had it not been for something ridiculously felicitous.

After being searched and released from the dealer’s room, it was time to go home. I’d been kept so busy by panels that I never made it to the annual cosplay chess or the maid café let alone the respective performance and concert by Rainbow Bubble Girls and The Asterplace. Missing the latter was an absolute shame, because there was an honest-to-goodness LIVE BAND at CPAC for the first time in years! (If you’ve read any other con report by me, you know I hold live music to be essential to a proper party.) As if in sympathy, however, the con ended on the highest note imaginable when a five-piece band featuring a lead singer in a panda costume starting playing me and my cohorts out with Yui’s “again” from the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood OP (or, you know, her album Green Garden Pop).

Near delirium for all my lack of sleep, I managed to completely mess up everything I had planned, save my panel (which went great, thanks for asking). Missing the concert was unfortunate, but the after-the-fact realization that I’d missed the chance to talk to guest Jamie Marchi about the FUNi simul-dubbing/-scripting process and other aspects of her involvement in the industry was heartbreaking. Admittedly, I would’ve also been one of the first to ask for her best “gow gow.” She was a catch of a guest for CPAC, and I hope her caliber got the attention it deserves. Other industry guests included voice actors Mike Pollock and Monica Rial.

Aside from a forthcoming, short panel report, that’s about it from me on this year’s CPAC. It’s growing in attendance and competency. I can only hope it doesn’t share a weekend with Zenkaikon again next year; it would be great to be at least semi-cognizant as to take advantage of all the con has to offer. Spread the word, and make plans to attend next year. I hope to see you there at the concert, in a panel, or scouring the dealer’s room.

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Snapshot: Pineapple Slice of Life (Only Yesterday)

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Taeko smells the pineapple

Anime fans like to talk about slice of life, but too often that term is nothing more than otaku code for “cute high school girls bein’ cute.” In reality, there is a great art to capturing brief slices of ordinary life. Film critic Siegfried Kracaue discusses just this in “The Establishment of Physical Existence,” a chapter from “Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality.” Among the many areas where film excels, he argues, is shining a light on “blind spots of the mind,” many of which are fostered by daily routines and cultural practices. We rarely pay close attention to garbage cans, for example, but a film can train our attention on a garbage can for five minutes in order to force us to take in its physical reality. (A classic example is this American Beauty scene focusing on nothing but a plastic bag blowing in the wind.)

True slice of life draws us sometimes uncomfortably close to the ordinary, infusing unexpected life into the things we take for granted. Isao Takahata’s film Only Yesterday isn’t entirely slice of life, but it integrates ordinary moments into the sometimes surreal, nostalgic narrative. In one of my personal favorites, our heroine, Taeko, remembers the first time her family ate a pineapple.

When fifth grader Taeko’s father brings home a pineapple, she and her sisters are ecstatic. No-one in the family has ever had a fresh one, and nobody in the house even knows how to cut it! It takes her college-age sister asking around among her friends to come up with an answer.

Taeko's sister cuts the pineapple's skin off

Taeko's sister cuts the pineapple into wedgesThat Sunday, everybody gathers for the real pineapple carving. Taeko's eldest sister carefully cuts the pineapple into rings. Each step is lovingly animated, and a giddy Taeko grabs each piece of discarded skin to smell it. The attention to detail infuses a seemingly mundane object with profound meaning, and represents how the moment, and the appearance of the pineapple itself, sticks out in Taeko's memory. With glorious little golden wedges served to each member of the family, all gather around the table and dig in.

Everybody puckers up at the sourness, while Taeko watches gleefully. As their faces turn to frowns one by one, Taeko’s smile disappears, and she takes her own bite. “It’s hard,” she says.

The family reacts.

Slowly, half the table puts down their pineapple slices and voices their complaints. “It’s not very good.” “Not too sweet.” “It’s nothing like the canned stuff.” Taeko's father lights a cigarette, and her sisters push their slices her way, while Taeko, her mother, and her grandmother munch away in stony silence. Eventually Taeko accepts defeat, her eyes drooping as she chews the hard pieces with her mouth open. Tears are just barely visible in her eyes. It’s an anticlimactic ending, but the actual arc of the scene is almost entirely irrelevant. The pineapple provides a frame to examine Taeko’s family through a sequence of extended shots. The sparse, naturalistic dialogue is important, but the scene largely hinges on expert character animation that contrasts of the reactions of each member of the family. Without the subtle acting, the extended shots would be spotlights without a subject.

Taeko munches away in disappoinment

Taeko's father’s blunt analysis of the pineapple’s flavor, her grandmother’s optimism, her sisters’ impatience, and Taeko’s own disappointment all come through without any melodrama or slapstick comedy. The scene is nothing more or less than a family eating a pineapple, but it's the sort of simple memory that we so often forget as we go about our lives. It's a mirror held to a “blind spot of the mind,” a true slice of life.

Only Yesterday remains unlicensed in North America, which is a damn shame. Figuring out how to watch it yourself is up to you.

Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

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Review: Your Lie in April

A monotone boy meets a colorful girl, and the gift that nearly destroyed him brings him back to life.

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Your Lie in April, an A-1 Pictures production that aired during the noitaminA programming block in Japan, is an adaptation of Naoshi Arakawa’s shonen musical romance manga. YLiA tells the story of Kousei Arima, an extraordinarily gifted but traumatized pianist, and his relationship with cheerful violinist Kaori Miyazono. If “shonen musical romance” and “traumatized pianist” didn’t scare you off, then you’re in for a charmingly bittersweet love story where music helps a person see a world of color, where art and love become a single melody.

When we meet Kousei, he barely exists. Trained from an early age to be a perfectly orthodox concert pianist by Saki, his mother and gifted a pianist in her own right, Kousei is derided as “The Human Metronome” by his rivals for playing with the meticulousness of a machine devoid of passion. Kousei eventually collapses under the strain of trying to please Saki, who has turned abusive and domineering due to her failing health. This leads to an exchange of words where Kousei wishes Saki would die. And in melodramatic fashion, she does. Broken by her death and racked with guilt, Kousei can no longer hear his own piano playing. For two years, Kousei goes through the motions of life and withdraws from music. Then he encounters the free-spirited Kaori, whose vibrant musicianship and encouragement help Kousei confront the trauma of his past.

This show has an interesting underlying message about art and love and how one influences the other. Kaori's efforts to reach Kousei reignites his passion for music and in turn gives him the strength to support her when Kaori’s own confidence begins to fail. Their music becomes the medium through which Kaori and Kousei share their truth each other — a language only they can truly hear.

A particular duet between Kousei and Kaori is one of the finest scenes I’ve seen in an anime in quite a while. In fact, I think it might end up being one of the best scenes we’ll see this decade. Watching it I got the sense that the director had been waiting the entire series to get to that moment. Color and sound intermingle to create a powerful scene that takes the show to the kind of emotional high you don’t usually see outside of a feature film, even if for just that moment.

As much as I like this show, its far from perfect. First, nearly every female character by the end of the show has a crush on or is in love with Kousei. This excessive pandering distracts from the show’s better aspects and provide nothings of value. The show can feel a bit slow in the middle and it almost seems to stall for time until it can begin ramping up for the climax. Granted, the show couldn’t jump straight from establishing the characters and conflicts to the payoff, but I feel like they could have tightened the principal characters’ growth arcs up and spent extra time exploring some of the supporting cast. Several characters have moments where they display more depth than we normally get to see, and it seems a waste not to explore them more.

But my biggest complaint about YLiA involve it’s dependency on some very convenient plot devices. Several times throughout the story characters find themselves in situations that blatantly serve no other purpose than to advance the main character’s development. While this isn’t a sin in and of itself, when it’s poorly executed it can feel lazy and artificial. The show’s somewhat weak middle and sometimes overblown melodrama would spoil a lesser show.

Despite it faults, Your Lie in April sweeps us up in its color and emotion until its shortcomings are like a dimly remembered dream. Both the earnestness of the show’s romances and the exploration of art as both punishment and salvation shine through. Warts and all, I was sad to see this show end and I didn’t want to take it off of my queue.


Your Lie in April is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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The Trap Door: To All Young Lovers, Wherever They Are

Sea Prince and the Fire Child (1981)

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Apologies for the lateness. Phillip had some personal stuff that delayed the March Trap Door column.

Legends and mythology are the stuff of civilization. Every prince and pauper, every king and villain, every mad wizard and sane sage, it’s all in our blood. Even when we’re separated by oceans, land masses or other physical distances, we still can invent similar stories. One of the most common is the story of star-crossed lovers. You know the one: two youngsters from opposing sides in a conflict or dispute find each other, fall in love and have to face the wrath and disappointment of their respective sides. Together they succeed or fail, all while maintaining their love. Ol’ Willie Shakespeare did one of the best versions of it and probably the most famous. Sanrio (the makers of Hello Kitty) did their own version in 1981. It’s not as well known but damn if it wasn’t great to watch either. It’s The Legend of Sirius or as it’s known in English, Sea Prince and the Fire Child.

Sirius is the prince of the sea, the child of Lord Glaucus. He is about to come of age, at which point he will be the new protector of the sea. Glaucus gives him the Eye of Argon that he might rule over the seas in Glaucus’ stead. So far, so good. Meanwhile, on land, Malta, daughter of Themis, is entrusted with the Eternal Flame that her mother created to keep the seas calm and the Fire children safe. Malta, too, will become Queen herself one day. The thing is that both Themis and Glaucus are brother and sister and that Argon is currently in the bottom of the sea because he caused a rift between the siblings. A higher god than the two of them intervened as they warred and banished Argon to the bottom, tearing out his magical eye and giving it to Glaucus. Now the two sides stay apart and hate and mistrust each other. Naturally, after they meet, Malta and Sirius realize they’re in love and they’ve got a problem.

The film itself is a masterwork of design and artwork; each background is lovingly drawn and painted. Despite being 35 years old, it feels much, much older. That’s not a bad thing, though, as it helps keep the movie timeless. The film is full of long pans over the undersea kingdom, taking in the world as we get introduced to Sirius and his young friend Teak. This is a place where the animators want us to notice it. It’s not a major “LOOK AT ALL THIS ARTWORK!!!!” sort of thing but it just looks, well, loved by the people making it. It’s a dead art now since more modern Disney films are all about plot, plot, plot and not really about the artwork. Plus, Sanrio and Toei don’t really bother with this sort of thing in Japan anymore. Ghibli, Madhouse and MAPPA do, but they’ve been like that from the start so we expect this from them. Here, it’s in the animators interests to make you notice this stuff. The music is a dreamy, well constructed, loving ode to the romantic Hollywood scores of the '40s and '50s. Think choral choirs and violins aplenty. I’d love to have this on vinyl or even digital if I could.

Still, there are a couple of bargaining points in the film that you must accept before going on. There are no humans in this world. It could be the early past or the very far future — we just are not told. The makers of the film figure you’re familiar with Disney and their casts of friendly anthropomorphic creatures. This world has both the fire children and the water children living in harmony with themselves. All the fish, whales, crustaceans and so on get along, and there are only fire sprites on the land so they naturally get along. So it’s like a Disney movie from the '50s except nobody breaks into song. It's admirable the way the story uses Greek mythological figures like Themis, Glaucus and Argon without needing to explain why it’s not a Greek myth story, instead making something that feels authentically mythlogical but non-culturally specific. I wish more studios could have had Sanrio’s bravery.


The characters are very well realized in that they are people who had stories before the movie started, which is unusual for a children’s film if you think about it. Sirius was a prince among his people and was respected by all, except Mabuse, a very large Polliwog who has it in for Sirius. People, you’ve met the film’s Popeye, now meet his version of Brutus. Except Mabuse just wants to rule the seas and have Sirius out of the way. On the opposite side, Piale, who is a friend of Malta and a fellow Fire Child, loves her friend a whole lot. Well, more than a friend, more like a super girl crush. I don’t know if I should read anything into that since it is a children’s film and this got an English dub with Tony Oliver (of Robotech fame) as Sirius so I’m certain that this was a non-issue for the US licensors. Speaking of our leads, Sirius and Malta are the classic lovers. Teasingly, we don’t get to see them as they discover each other. Sirius spots her first and then disappears so Malta doesn’t know about Sirius until the next night. When they meet, Malta is giddy about him and we see Sirius struggle to understand this creature. But as they spend time together, he begins to change; he accepts her love and learns to understand his love for her. Sirius really struggles trying to obey his father but in the end, he fundamentally knows that Water Children and Fire Children should be together, not apart. The lightness of being of both lovers is noticed by their friends and at first, they are nakedly jealous of the love developing between Sirius and Malta. But in an interesting twist, both friends, Teak (who is a hyper, little brother type to Sirius) and Piale, sacrifice their own happiness to help their friends without ever thinking of their own safety. When both of the lovers realise what their friends have done, they are heartbroken and the Japanese dub with Tohru Furuya as Sirius and Mami Koyama as Malta sells that rock-bottom moment for the two of them. Full marks to director (and Sanrio and Mushi Pro vet) Masami Hata for getting across that these two young things fall in love BEFORE they know the story of why they should hate each other. So they overcame their parents teachings before they needed to know they were right to think that way. Interesting, no?

Discotek, those wunderkind anime fans, released this a good few years ago and I’ve owned it for at least a one or two. I had not seen it and for the life of me, I can't understand why I didn’t do it sooner. It’s a fantastic story with wonderful animation by a confident director, writer and animation team with a rousing voice cast, plus we get the English dub that has knocked around in US cable TV for a few years now. Either way, you’ll enjoy it. Grab it and close the Trap Door behind you, would you?

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Drunken Otaku: Bartender (Anime)

A love letter to liquor and those who serve.


A bar is a hideout, a fortress with a high-proof moat, a haven for wading in a tasty something while waiting out whatever squall rages outside the weighty entrance door. Inside the bar, inside each of its patrons, another storm rages, and the bartender’s job is to assuage the atmosphere to help stay the resultant ripples of anxiety within those seeking refuge; drinks are only a part of that recipe. At least, that’s how the anime Bartender romanticizes it.

The worst aspect of any bar to any asylum seeker is the unavoidable reflective surfaces: the bottles, the glasses, the plane of a still drink, and the eyes of surrounding patrons. That’s why, for the customers, the lights are dim, and that’s why the bartender must employ keen instincts and impeccable demeanor to match drink to patron. After all, a customer may order the drink they want, but that’s not necessarily the drink they need.

Each of the eleven installments comprising Bartender (2006)—an episodic series directed by Masaki Watanabe and based on seinen manga by Araki Joh and Kenji Nagatomo—showcases a different guest and the specific, hand-crafted cocktail proffered their troubled soul. Contrary to the assumption that alcohol is about losing oneself or actively and repeatedly drowning resurfacing sorrows, Bartender insists the right drink at the right time (“The Glass of the Gods”) is about starting an earnest conversation with oneself. That’s why there’s no printed menu at Eden Hall, the fictional bar tucked away in a corner of Tokyo’s Ginza’s district, only a “menu of the heart.”

As maudlin as that may sound, that schmaltzy terminology suits the sentiment at Bartender’s core. The series maintains that the most important talent for a bartender is the imagination towards people, the power to create a human story within the glass that opens up each barstool occupant’s heart to introspection. That being the case, there is a lot of pensive rumination—tender, biting, and amusingly awkward—which, through some wonderful storytelling techniques, sneaks up on the viewer very effectively.

Being that this series is all about stories, having the right storyteller is key. The lulling voice of Han Choi as the narrator is that of a parent, sitting beside his child in the still night, reading a tale by the soft glow of a bedside lamp. Choi helps settle viewers into each episode by offering a smattering of history or a brief fact about a particular drink and pops up elsewhere throughout episodes as well. The narrator’s voice is, thankfully, not omnipresent. For the most part, each story is competently told via casual dialog and effective visuals.

In each tale, wayside details reflect and thereby enhance the emotional impact of the characters’ stories. Bartender is not an imagery-heavy series; character design, specifically facial details/expressions and posture, seamlessly enhance what needs to be said. However, there are particularly strong images, art variations, and camera lens emulation techniques that push particular scenes from dramatic to deliciously melodramatic. (If you don’t tear up in Episode 3 as the billboards silently cheer on Shimaoka, you are, without doubt, a monster ... or sober.)

What is animated is not always the most impressive aspect of what is on screen. Dramatic staging also plays a very important role in setting tone and making people talking at length as consistently interesting as it is throughout this series. And when I say staging, I mean staging. Sporadic instances, such as spotlighting characters giving monologs as well as half-screens split between storyteller and depicted story, lend to theatrical levels of presentation. This might seem over-the-top and included for its own sake, but considering that the lay of wood between bartender Ryuu Sasakura and the customer is referred to as “the tiny stage that is the counter,” I think the execution aptly employed.

Balance is crucial to any drama, and Sasakura’s manner provides respite for viewers just as he does his fictional customers. Similarly, cameo appearances of regular Eden Hall patrons as part of the frame story for other patrons’ stories convey an unspoken camaraderie while also offering a bit of levity. While not always comical, sage advice and friendly, familiar, alleviated faces brighten scenes just when needed without being too pronounced as to take over the scene.

Aside from Sasakura’s gentlemanly smoothness, there is zero fan service here … unless you count the loving rendering of the myriad bottles behind the counter. Those familiar with bars or the shelves of their local liquor stores will recognize at least something readily on hand at Eden Hall. Such is the detail given even in wide shots. Bottle close-ups border on the photorealistic depictions present in Drops of God but with less frequency.  This further installs Bartender as a love letter to liquor as opposed to the consumption thereof. In this series, the stories of the customers are sometimes, if not almost always, as important as and at times even parallel to the history of the liquors imbibed.

Eden Hall, the fictional bar, takes its name from a fairy tale about a glass which must never be broken lest happiness be lost. Adopted by the bar, this mantra is bolstered by the show’s etymology for the word bartender: a gentle (tender) perch (bar). Altogether, these elements astutely imply the fragility of the customers as well as their delicate relationship of trust with the bartender. While this is immediately recognizable as pure fantasy by those who flock to bars in their later years to be somewhere that’s not the oppressive environment of home or work, the depiction of a kindly ear and effective, tasty remedies for daily woes is a welcome fairy tale.

My inner alcoholic is screaming, “Why didn’t this ever get licensed in North America?!” But with the series being seinen and sappy in 2006, I guess I know why. In time, hopefully Crunchyroll will come to its senses and offer it as a legal stream. Until then, the series is available with fansubs on YouTube. It’s a title that can be picked up at any time, alone or with friends, for a random episode, and I highly recommend doing so.

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Con Report: Genericon XXVIII

48-Hour Pass to the Evan Minto Experience

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Some people will travel across continents and seas to attend a convention, to spend a weekend sleeping in unfamiliar hotel beds with unfamiliar bedmates, sometimes sleeping right there on the convention hall floor, with one eye open for prowling security guards clearing rooms at closing time. Attending a con means sacrificing comforts and lowering one’s expectations of cleanliness and nutrition, sometimes to the point of bodily harm. Without the endlessly coiling lines and sweltering heat, Genericon has little in common with the major cons that draw in tens of thousands of attendees. For me, Genericon has become less about the content offered and more about seeing old friends and walking through familiar grounds.


Even when I start to worry about the sparseness of the programming, it’s still one of my favorite cons. I have to be impartial and a touch critical though. Genericon is a remarkably well-run convention without much in terms of headline-worthy content. Incidentally, seeing old friends and headline-worthy content crossed over thanks to the appearance of Internet-famous Crunchyroll mascot and Featured Panelist, Evan ‘@VamptVo’ Minto. On this blog especially, we’ll take advantage of our platform to say how great we are and how amazing our friends are at delivering clever insights into Japanese cartoons, and really nothing has changed my mind. I knew Evan’s panels would blow away anything else I’d go out to see, simply on the basis of the guy’s years of experience and his obsessive pursuit of perfection. Keeping that in mind is how I avoided disappointment when I actively sought out the worst panels at the con, a challenge that I only managed to take so far.

I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it’s something I won’t be able to avoid when talking about ‘Monster Musume: The Women Behind the Myths.’ This was the first panel I attended at the con, a midnight panel with the ever-alluring 18+ designation, and I convinced Evan to come along for morale, though he ended up needing it more that I did. With a Dunbar-esque naming sense in the title, I had higher expectations for a panel that committed just about every cardinal sin there is to commit during a presentation. The number one rule for panelists is to never put all your notes in the actual presentation. When you’ve got seven bullet points with a paragraph for every bullet that you’re going to repeat verbatim to the audience, it’s no longer a presentation, it’s a torturous hour of nervously excited shouting and frequent lusting after monster titties. Overall, it was kind of tough to get any idea of the women behind the myths. For the record, slime girl is best girl.

Alternatively, Hentai 101 was a snoozefest that somehow garnered a rapt audience. The team of panelists, one guy quietly nodding in and out of sleep behind the mic and the other guy sitting at the table with his arms crossed, clicked through a shoddy, boring stream of consciousness that conveyed how little of a shit they gave. At least the monster girl fan gave up the goods between essays on centaurs. These guys mumbled through one of the easiest panels to give, smirking gently to each other all the while, as if knowingly holding back on giving the room something to actually lose their minds and innocence over. Even our Editor-in-Chief was sore over the lack of pornography. Needless to say we will not be attending Hentai 102.

Genericon was rife with terrible programming but I didn’t hate myself enough to go to every bad panel. The panels I genuinely enjoyed all turned out to be the ones that I had no presumptions about, the ones that others in my group threw in as a suggestion and I had just enough curiosity to check out. I descended from my high horse to make awful Play-Doh monstrosities until 1 in the morning on a Sunday (Clay-O-Rama), and then got right back on that horse for Anime Name That Tune when I was the first one in the room to call the M.D. Geist ending song. Cosplay Dating was hit and miss but it’s not so painful when you’ve got someone next to you to talk about how you can fuck the dog in DRAMAtical Murder. You seriously can fuck the dog, and I heard it’s, like, your brother too. It’s crazy.

I’ve been dismissive of what was scheduled this year because I wish the convention would be as ambitious as I know it can be. For a student-run event that goes on nonstop for 48 hours, Genericon never once feels like it's going to implode or fly off the rails, which is commendable in its own right given all the horror stories of con mismanagement we hear through the grapevine. The staff is shuffled around every year as members graduate and yet the convention remains as solidly operated as it has been for the last couple of years. My only problem with Genericon is that after five or so years, I'm hit with a sense of familiarity with it all. It's bad when I've got people in my group with a worse memory than I do asking me, "hey, haven't we seen this before?" I don't have any fears that the con will grow stagnant, but I'd rather not be motivated to make the trip just to ironically sit in on some bad panels.

By the end of a dire AMV show on Sunday, I was ready to call it in but all this time, I couldn't help but feel like someone vital was missing. Shoutouts to fellow Ani-Gamers blogger Ink who couldn’t make it this year. Even if it sounds like you didn’t miss much, trust me, we missed you. I’d be remiss not to mention Ed Chavez, Vertical Comics’ Marketing Director and returning panelist who, aside from providing some much-desired legitimacy to Genericon with his presence, is always down for a stroll to the pub. With 28 Genericons in the hole, it’s not the kind of event I’d consider in its infancy, but it is a convention that is in the process of latent growth. This year wasn’t exactly reflective of that, but I believe the convention is just one knockout AAA guest away from taking it to the next level.

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Snapshot: Temporal Culture Clash (The Rolling Girls)

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Author’s note: My subconscious had an affair with Kyoto via nostalgia appropriated from Japanese fiction. Take everything hereafter with a huge grain of salt and enjoy the speculation.

Over the course of two episodes, "Give Me the Stars" (Episode 7) and "After the Rain" (Episode 8), The Rolling Girls layers internal character and interpersonal group conflicts and then interweaves them to 1) represent Japan’s identity crisis and 2) offer a bit of optimism by way of anime’s most grandiose culture festival concert set yet.

Not to bring up the most obvious comparison in the whole nomadic-girls-with-motorcycles genre, but The Rolling Girls is at its best when it’s Kino’s Journey. That’s to say episodes focusing on a town’s or resident’s essence/conflict are infinitely more enjoyable than those focusing on any aspect of the outsiders themselves. It’s this insular focus, largely applied in Episodes 8 and 9, that enables the implication of a greater cultural identity crisis narrative as well as the finale’s emotional punch.

To start, the anime take place in a future post-war power vacuum which resulted in Japan splitting up into its original 10 prefectures. Each of these is represented by at least one Best—a vigilante who gains superhuman capabilities by possessing a particular kind of heart-shaped jewel—who helps resolve disputes. Episodes 8 and 9 take place in Kyoto, which was Japan’s capital city until 1869 in real life and considered by many to be the center of Japanese culture and learning. The prefecture gets the title of “The holy land of rock” in The Rolling Girls, however, due to its recent renown as a concert festival destination.

There are two Bests who manage the entire territory together with an acknowledged, unspoken agreement. Mamechiyo is part of “Maikos, We Are,” a group of geishas-in-training that protect the public peace of the general city and surrounding areas. She and her group represent history and culture—the old ways. The Kamogawa Rockers, headed by their captain Misa (a guitar player and vocalist), operate and police the huge concerts held at the old temples. She and her group represent a culture of youth fawning over and adopting foreign culture. (Japan, like the USA, has an extended history of such syncretism.) So immediately there is one group dedicated to protecting tradition and another dedicated to assimilation.

The two captains do not get along even though they once played guitars together with such strength of friendship as to summon a power stone, which they split in two (thus becoming Bests). Misa refuses to speak to Mamechiyo, who is said to have a history of “weird harassment” (stalking), and Mamechiyo is carrying, unbeknownst to Misa, a grudge. The latter is emotional baggage stemming from Misa’s success at a music competition and her subsequent shunning of Chiyo. So here is a personal division paralleling the group division noted above. For a generational twist on the same theme, you could easily apply the mantle of Old Japan to Chiyo’s mother.

On the day of the divisional concert, Chiyo’s mother steps in to ward Misa off of distracting Chiyo from her geisha studies (fan dancing, shamisen playing, etc.). This happens when Chiyo is not around to protest, and Misa backs off entirely (thus her constant snubbing). Old Japan (mom) does not want formative Present Day Japan (Chiyo) to be tainted with pop culture (Misa) … at least not until the old culture is thoroughly embedded (and by then, dominant). But the Bests and their blood relations are not all that’s instrumental to the emotional punch of the finale.

The titular traveling troupe of Best substitutes—none have special powers but are fulfilling requests for their injured Best—comes to Kyoto to save a concert, the “Kiyomizu Temple Rock Explosion” (even the name of the concert is syncretic; the show makes a point of having one of the rolling girls struggle with the pronunciation of the English). The big draw to said concert? The Momiage Hammers, an old and beloved rock band that lost its lead singer over eccentric differences, will be playing together again with local favorite Misa filling is as their lead singer. This is where things start to turn from restrictive to inclusive as old is blended with new in a positive, non-divisive context. After all, the syncretic name of the concert would instantly be divisive to traditionalists.

Misa practices with The Momiage Hammers, and all seems well. Misa turns out to be the life-blood the band needs to reach a younger generation, and practice sessions go great. (A parallel fourth-wall breaking layer in this is that The Rolling Girls voice actresses cover the songs of an ‘80s punk band, The Blue Hearts, exposing younger anime viewers to older punk rock.) But come time for the final concert, Misa’s without her Halved heart stone she uses as a guitar pick and freezes on stage despite an earlier tender scene where one of the Momiage Hammers sympathizes and lends her his pick. As opposed to the older generation trying to push pop culture away, as is the case with Chiyo’s mother and Misa, this sympatheic gesture shows a member of the older generation trying to help someone younger with compassion instead of regulation.

And finally there’s Doji Shuten. He’s under orders to “make things interesting” so Chiyo can have an excuse to come to the aid of her former friend and current co-Best. Shuten is modern Japan and represents the chaos of culture clash; he turns a temple-full of Buddha statues into launch-able missiles (taboo of treading on/messing with holy ground) but is presented as more Puck-ish for doing so, always wears more classic garb, and refuses to let anyone be put in real harms way. On top of his technical prowess, there’s something very anime about him in the final segment, which again points towards pop culture.

All of this, all of these characters and all of these issues, are resolved — via glances, punches, artillery laser light shows, duets, and more — in the final four minutes comprising the big, Misa-led Momiage Hammers set. It’s the younger generation literally blowing tradition out of the sky and showing backbone by bellowing at the iceberg before the boat while barreling ahead full throttle. It’s the older generation recognizing if not respecting that strength of character and fortitude and granting a nod of acceptance. It's this month's (make-up for last month's missing) Snapshot. But, mostly, it’s a party, and EVERYONE is invited.


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Poetry in Zenkaikon and CPAC: Ink's Madcap, 3-Day, 2-Con Weekend Extravaganza

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Never mind the ides of March, the end of March is going to be Brutus brutal(ly awesome). Although I accidentally ended up attending Animania! earlier this month, Zenkaikon and Castle Point Anime Convention (CPAC) mark my first official con destinations of 2015. They're taking place on the same weekend, and I'll be presenting at both! After the break, check out what I'll be presenting, with whom, and what panels I'm aiming to attend. Otherwise, I hope to see some of you Ani-Gamers reader [sic] around the con(s) and hope you check out both con reports!

Like its subject, my panel needs a little room to breathe. I've only presented condensed versions of it until now, which is why I'm excited to say that both cons are giving "Poetry in Anime: the Power of Words in a Visual Medium" a 90-minute time slot (with ample empty-room time afterwards for questions, comments, and shenanigans). There's been a lot of tightening and additions since this panel's AnimeNEXT debut, so come on by and take in the director's cut!

Live 6: Saturday, 6:00–7:30 pm

Panels 7: Sunday, 2:00–3:30 pm

Also at CPAC, I'll be joining Vincenzo Averello of All Geeks Considered for "The Con is Alive with the Sound of Anime!" from 12:30–1:30 pm in Panels 2. This panel was born of passion for diverse anime titles focused on music or which use music as a core device. Between Vincenzo's tastes and my own, we've got a lot of surprises in store and a ton of recommendations to give.

Speaking of recommendations, here's what I'm looking forward to (for one reason or another) panel-wise:

Opening Ceremonies
Real Robots: Crushing Your Misconceptions
AMV Showdown
The Plus Side of Cosplay
Edo Tsunami Kanzashi Workshop
Pop-Culture Paganism and Anime (with a Dash of Shinto?)
Tail Making with Mermaid Yemaya
Conversation Parade: Let’s Talk Adventure Time
‘They Used Hot Melted Sugar!’: Dramatic Readings of Weird Fan Fiction
“The Manly Battleships” Big Damn Panel of Sheer Manliness
The Metal ‘n’ Anime Connection

Hidden Gems of Manga
Shinto Elements in the Films of Hayao Miyazaki
Convention and Cosplay Etiquette: Uncensored Edition
Historical and Legendary Heroes of Japan – or who is Minamoto no Yorimitsu anyway?
Magical Girl Bootcamp
The Politics of Bravely Default
Back in My Day: Conventions and Cosplay Then and Now
Poetry in Anime: the Power of Words in a Visual Medium
Even more Awesome Animation Not from Japan
Strong Female Characters in Fiction
Anime Openings Through the Decades
Super Awesome Happy Fun AMV Time!
Violent Japanimations From Japan: The Best Hyperviolent OVAs That You Should Be Watching

Good Morning Castle Point
The Importance of Representation in Media
70s Anime Funtime
The Con is Alive with the Sound of Anime!
Poetry in Anime: the Power of Words in a Visual Medium
Psychology of Anime
The Great Debates

Panels I won't be able to attend but HIGHLY recommend checking out:
Insight Into the Manga Industry With Yen Press Editor (presented by Justin Stroman)
The Play's the Thing: Shakespeare in Anime and Manga (presented by Robert J Gannon)

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Squees and Moans: Taiiku Podcast tags Ink to help tackle Wanna Be the Strongest (and Short Peace)

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Once upon a time, Kory Cerjak, host of the sports anime-centric Taiiku Podcast, had a horrible idea. He decided to review the wrestling anime Wanna Be the Strongest in the World. But he wasn't willing to do it alone. Oh no. Since misery loves company (or is it because cowardice loves deflection?), Kory decided to drag wrestling aficionado Patz, notorious anime hater Tony, and me into the mix. Why me? (You simply cannot conceive of how many times I asked myself that same question while watching Strongest.) Well, by way of apology or pity for his choice of features, Kory also wanted to talk about a favorite of mine: Short Peace. Despite the HIGH price of admission, I, like everyone else, gave in (or rather gave up) and had a grand time for doing so. Screw the whole "best Love Live" debate, grow your appreciation of good anime by listening to us argue best Short Peace and then laugh your jaws off while counting how many times Patz swears uncontrollably while talking about Stongest.

Taiiku Podcast Episode #5

For more, check out Ink's Short Peace review on Fandom Post and his Snapshot about the intro.

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Snapshot: Synchronicity (Kokoro Connect)

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Match cuts, a clever editing trick taken advantage of by surprisingly few directors (probably due to the difficulty of planning them out and how conspicuous they can be), were a favorite of anime director Satoshi Kon, who would often move between scenes using a single connecting element — be it an image or a sound. These cuts can show up in some pretty unexpected places though. As an example, I give you the first few moments of Kokoro Connect episode 1.

The show opens on a fairly typical modern anime scene: a teenage boy waking up to the voice of his little sister. As he swings his feet out from under the covers, however, we cut to a different room and a different set of feet. Now we're watching a girl waking up. When she turns to talk to her little sister, we move to another house, where a girl walks through a doorway and into the dining room. She sips some tea and places it back on the table. Now the mug belongs to a boy who's eating with his family. When he runs out the door, we move to a girl leaving the house and bickering with her brother. Finally, as she slams the door shut, one of the girls from before slaps one of the boys on the back on their way to school. All five character meet up at the school gate and step through it in unison. Their experiences parallel each other and bring them together for this single moment. It's a subtle touch that establishes the connections between the characters that will drive the body-swapping antics of the series to come.

But what makes Kokoro Connect's opening sequence so smart isn't just the use of match cuts. It's the way it tells a single story by weaving through multiple characters, as if to say that these people aren't just islands of individuality but a unit greater than the sum of its parts. Looked at as a whole, the scene is the story of one teenager waking up and going to school, but each segment of the process — getting out of bed, eating breakfast, leaving the house — is performed by a different character. This lends the whole scene a feeling of inertia and makes it all the more impactful when the five actors finally appear on stage together, ready to start the show.

Kokoro Connect is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

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My (Featured!) Panels at Genericon XXVIII This Weekend

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It's been two years now since I headed up college con Genericon as convention chair, and they've been doing a pretty great job back at RPI since then. As I did last year, I'll be flying back to attend Genericon XXVIII, though this time I'm not just a panelist — I'm a featured panelist. This means that the con has made the mistake of featuring me in the conbook and, more importantly, I'm running FIVE panels. Big thanks go out to Amy and the rest of the staff for hooking me up with this awesome opportunity! I've listed all of my panels in easy bullet-point form after the break:

  • The Rise of CG Anime – history of computer graphics in anime – 6pm Friday in Panel 1
  • How Anime Gets Made – anime production process – 7pm Friday in Panel 1
  • The Changing Faces of Anime – history of anime/manga character designs – 9am Saturday in Panel 1
  • Crunchyroll Industry Panel – Buy Crunchyroll ProductsTM – 12 noon Saturday in Main Events A
  • The Beautiful Backgrounds of Anime – anime background art overview – 9am Sunday in Main Events A

Most of these are either premiering at Genericon or greatly updated since the last time I ran them, so if you're at the con this weekend, please stop by!

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Review: The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition

No such thing as too much anime.

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Listing every anime ever produced is no small feat. That’s why it’s especially impressive that the latest version of The Anime Encyclopedia (Amazon link), written by British anime experts Helen McCarthy (The Art of Osamu Tezuka) and Jonathan Clements (Anime: A History), doesn’t just list them — it includes release and production information, plot synopses, and even critical analysis for each title.

Released today both as an e-book and physical copy, The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition may not be the prettiest book out there (it contains no images, just page after page of textual description), but it is a bold attempt to compile a ridiculous wealth of knowledge on Japanese animation into a single book. McCarthy and Clements have dug up just about every title you could think of (I have yet to find one that they’re missing), from obvious classics like Space Battleship Yamato to obscure ‘90s hentai like Quiltian. It's surprisingly current too, with titles as recent as Akame Ga Kill (2014). The length of each entry varies widely, with more care and detail given to influential or historically important titles and cursory descriptions given to unimportant ones. In those longer entries, the authors don’t merely summarize; they call up interesting trivia about the work’s production, its predecessors, and its ancestors, and even toss in some of their own opinions.

This last bit was an unexpected feature, as I figure a book with “Encyclopedia” in its title will impart facts with no editorializing. Luckily the analysis is short, snappy, and often witty, though the lack of individual attribution to McCarthy or Clements makes it hard to know where each opinion is coming from. There’s also a bit of a tendency for them to dismiss newer series based on their similarity to previous ones, which can make them seem a bit stodgy. This might rub new-school fans the wrong way, but it actually serves as a nice way of connecting new titles back to their predecessors.

The encyclopedia doesn’t stop at the anime itself, either. There are 32 entries on various subjects, including “Overseas Distribution and Piracy," “Gaming And Digital Animation," and “Wartime Anime." Each is filled with references to particular titles, thus serving as a useful gateway into anime you may not have heard of. Scattered throughout are a handful of creator- and studio-centric entries as well, summarizing the careers of directors like Satoshi Kon and famous animators like Yasuo Otsuka.

As an anime trivia nut, I find The Anime Encyclopedia an immensely useful reference book, but it’s also fun to flip it open and read a couple of randomly chosen entries, since there are lots of weird ones that I’ve never heard of. Still, with such a massive page-count (nearly 1200 in the print version), it begs the question: why is this a book at all? Current Internet resources on anime are scattered and incomplete (Wikipedia and the Anime News Network Encyclopedia can only take you so far), so why not turn this whole thing into a searchable, hyperlinked website? Maybe it’s just tradition, since the previous editions were released as books. Fortunately, there’s an e-book version of the Encyclopedia with frequent hyperlinks between its entries (and, ironically, to Wikipedia and ANN), a useful addition that makes the experience much closer to, if not quite as intuitive as, that of a website.

I haven’t read previous versions of the encyclopedia, so I can’t compare this one’s completeness or visual representation. I can, however, compare it to Jason Thompson’s excellent Manga: The Complete Guide, a dense compilation of reviews for every manga ever released in the US. The Anime Encyclopedia is far more thorough than Thompson’s book, both in breadth (it includes Japan-only releases) and depth (entries sometimes span multiple pages), and serves as an excellent anime-centric companion to that book. If you find your online options lacking and you don’t mind having to Google titles yourself to see pictures of them, The Anime Encyclopedia is a fantastic way to learn more about your favorite anime and expose yourself to a whole world of new titles.

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Review: Fable – Anniversary

As it turns out, you CAN go home again.

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While comprising nothing more than a facelift and some gratuitous extras, Fable: Anniversary is a decent enough excuse to replay an old favorite. But what does that say about Lionhead's Fable brand, and why does this particular release feel so empty compared to other facelifts, such as Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary? The only conclusion I keep coming to is that the "successors" within Fable's eleven-year, five-game lineage are largely considered by the fan base to be so successively disappointing that they make this particular revamp feel as shallow as it actually is — baggage of a love succumbed to sickness as opposed to a stand-alone portrait of their prime.

Ever since the initial Fable release, fans were eager for a new installment. Their opinions were generally favorable regarding Fable: The Lost Chapters, but that was only a re-release with additional quests and locations, a chance to re-engage the game's main villain in a more monstrous form, and the ability to wander about Albion for eternity after the main story quest was completed. Still, at least the additional content did not betray the heart of the game. Everything afterwards, however, seemed problematic; fan fervor consistently dropped with each subpar sequel.

While Fable II was poo-pooed by many players, Fable III only seemed to be loved by a very select few. And no, I'm not even going to speak to the technologically distinguished but vapid, Kinect-centric atrocity that is Fable: The Journey or the reimagined yet completely unexciting arcade hack-and-slash Fable Heroes. Looking into the future as if following the franchise's own roots of offering multiple paths with (relatively) wide moral berths, there's yet more divergence from the original formula with the upcoming Fable Legends, but even that seems to remove the very ambiguity which initially made the first installment of the series so novel.

So, is Anniversary merely marketing — nostalgia for the purpose of selling distanced fans on a return ticket to Albion for Legends? Yes, because out of all that has been improved in the updated release, nothing makes the game more playable than the original was back in 2004.

There is an option to swap controls with those of the more finger-friendly sequels, but movement itself is as jittery as in the original. The reengineered menu system facilitates access to items and expressions, but it can get in the way during combat depending on how accurate your D-pad pressing is. There’s also SmartGlass integration (mostly valuable only for the achievement garnered by activating it), which at best lets players view world and town maps to avoid navigating parts of the in-game menu. SmartGlass also brings up select snapshots of 2004 Albion, but this capability pales in comparison to Halo: CEA’s in-game, real-time, playable graphics swapping. And let’s be honest, those who picked up this title did it for the facelift.

The environments and characters look smoother, but the character models themselves are still genuinely awkward, off-putting, or downright disturbingly disproportionate. It’s not as though there were no efforts at trying to address this. Look at the eyes of any characters during cutscenes, and there’s an observable glassy effect and a richness of color rendered in an attempt to deepen the humanity of these pixelated freaks. Alas, something still feels as hollow as a man on the Gaveyard Path, and I suspect it’s nothing in particular about the game itself but rather the subconscious sigh of the inner Fable player upon recognition that this truly is as good as it’ll ever get.

The lack of anything new and substantial, which actually highlights the thin, albeit prettied, skin of the rerelease, affixes the spotlight upon a game that brings with it (for many) memories of a declining franchise and the benchmark that would never again be matched, let alone beaten, by any subsequent installment. Even though I enjoyed the quiet and complex growth of the use of morality and its consequences over the course of the first two Fable sequels, the static driver’s seat of The Journey and mindlessness of Heroes left me with a “screw it, I’m done here” mentality … that is until I played through Anniversary and happened to catch the teaser for Legends. The timing for these releases was not an accident.

As a prequel of sorts, Legends brings players back to the Albion of old in order to appeal to former franchise defectors. To address the outrage of those who loathed Fable III being set in an Albion undergoing an industrial revolution, Legends is set (obviously) before the original. This does away with the contested modern environment as well as the much-protested guns brought about by Fable II. This return to an older time is solely and slyly bridged by the release of Anniversary, which preps Fable fans for a return to form … at least in terms of setting and armaments (Legends introduces a multi-party approach to gameplay that is new to the series). Secondly and perhaps most obviously, the release of Anniversary simply reintroduces the game to remind players of why they fell in love with it. That, combined with the promise of a return to old Albion in Legends, seems like solid marketing to me. It just so happens that this solid piece of marketing is really fun to play.

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The Trap Door: A Man, His Dream, A Girlfriend, Her Revenge

Otaku No Video (1991)

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Ah, what would we do without Gainax? Well, for one, there would be fewer traumatized English fans of the studio *cough, ahem, Evangelion, cough* but we also wouldn’t have the studio's early trademark: an energetic, 100-mph pace of filmmaking. The folks at Gainax were always experimenting with what constituted anime, and one of those experiments was the hybrid anime/live action OVA Otaku No Video. It’s ... different.

Ken Kubo is a successful young man, he’s got a great girl who he loves, he plays tennis, and if he keeps this up he’ll have a good job, money, cars, and a happy home life. One day he comes across an old high school friend, Tanaka, who's now an otaku. No, that’s not fair, I should rephrase: Tanaka is an OTAKU. He’s got a circle of fellow otaku and though initially Kubo resists going back into his teenage pursuits, the lure of that sweet, sweet otaku life eventually seduces him back into the wicked ways of the pop culture hunter. Gone is his lovely girlfriend, Yoshiko, gone is his life of business. Now he dedicates his life to becoming the ultimate otaku, the OTAKING. Soon, he’s opening model shops, creating factories in China, and making lots of money, but he’s only interested in becoming a kind of Akihabara ÜberMensch. Along the way he encounters his old girlfriend, a new rival, and the destruction of his empire. Can he rise one more time to realize his destiny?

It’s best to warn you upfront: if you’re coming to this show with the above as your guide, oh boy do I have a bomb for you. Normally, this is where I tell you the show is terrible or it doesn’t pan out the way it’s set up, but in this case, that’s exactly what happens. Otaku No Video is the granddaddy of all subsequent otaku series: Genshiken, Welcome to the NHK, read Maniac Road, etc. When AnimEigo released this back in the day, people on this side of the world didn’t know what a Japanese otaku did for fun or recreation. This show gave us something of an insight. The characters are somewhat autobiographical, but I'll get to that in the second half of this review. On a more personal note, when we see Kubo and Tanaka become excited about figures or the show that they’re planning, I see myself in their enthusiasm. They like anime for the sake of liking anime. You can argue about their, er, tastes but they're certainly passionate.

The second part of the show is where the real fun is. For no good reason except that Gainax could, the film has “interviews” with otaku types. All of them are typical nerd archetypes, all of them are live action interviews, all of them have their faces covered in mosaic, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, all of them are fake. The masterstroke of the OVA is that the interviewees are all Gainax employees or folks who hung out with the crew from the studio. They're also all are terrible human beings because they are the real-life versions of the shut-ins that we laughed at in the earlier animated segment. Now, when we see a guy who tapes TV programs for other people but can’t see a reason to watch the stuff he tapes (hm, the whole videotape thing is an explanation for younger readers in and of itself), it’s not funny anymore. I think that director Takeshi Mori did this deliberately to show that for all the joking in the animated bits (with references to Gundam, Macross, and Gatchaman), they are actually saying “Yeah, we know this is really a waste of your time, but you just bought this so who’s the bigger fool?” I can’t get across properly how embarrassing and funny it is to watch these segments as they convincingly stumble through their questions. It’s all so charmingly sloppy that it's hard to believe it was done by anyone professional.

The show proper wraps up in a way that only Gainax can pull off. In an emotional moment (well, they are crying), Kubo and Tanaka reunite in a post-apocalyptic Japan where their friends have put together a super robot for them to escape the Earth. Really, I’m not making that one up. In any case, on display throughout is Gainax’s animation style from their early days. By which I mean, they were out to beat everyone else at their game. It’s too niche for me to recommend to everyone but it gets to stretch its legs outside of the Trap Door with manly tears, watching its favourite maid show and wearing its Char uniform with pride.

I have wanted to do Otaku No Video for the last two years but for whatever reason, never got around to it. I hope you go out and find the AnimEigo DVD’s as they have wonderful liner notes to go with their release.

On the 25th of every month in "The Trap Door," Phillip O'Connor tackles one forgotten anime title to find out whether it deserves to be rediscovered by the anime community. Click here to check out previous entries in the column.

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Ani-Gamers Podcast #048 – Writing About Anime and Manga (Anime Destiny 2014)

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After being a guest on Mike Toole's "Writing About Anime for Fun and Profit" panel at Otakon 2014, I hosted a similar panel at tiny college con Anime Destiny back in December. The guests are Nate Ming from Crunchyroll News and the Crunchyroll Newsletter and YouTuber Nick Robinson, formerly of Revision3/Fandom Beat, Anime Vice, and Unwinnable. Topics include how to get noticed, our inspirations, and the importance of puns. Yes this podcast took forever to come out, but if it makes you feel better, it only took me a couple days to edit it and release it once I got my hands on the file.

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(Runtime: 59 minutes)

  • Opening Song: "Kill Me" by Lame Drivers
  • Our guests are Crunchyroll News' Nate Ming and Nick Robinson, formerly of Revision3/Fandom Beat.
  • Otaku USA Magazine: Evan is featured in the new anime-only special issue (Fate/stay night cover), where he wrote about Studio Trigger and Hayao Miyazaki's Porco Rosso.
  • Nate writes for Crunchyroll News.
  • Nick hosts videos on his personal YouTube channel, plus he used to write for Anime Vice and Unwinnable. He also hosted anime videos on Fandom Beat on his now-defunct show, Behind Anime Lines.
  • Twitter: Ani-GamersEvan, Nick, and Nate (he doesn't use it)
  • Email us at!
  • Ending Song: "Kill Me" by Lame Drivers
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