Archive for May, 2011
Hiroki Azuma–author of the
Azuma writes in his introduction:
Japanese society has undergone a major change both politically and culturally during the
quarter-centuryfrom the end of…the Cold War to the burst of the economic bubble. Living conditions changed significantly and so did the beliefs and norms and the sense of “selfhood”. However…much of what is said about Japan still fails, unfortunately, to adapt to [this change]. This gap in awareness is wide enough in Japan…but it is even more serious outside of the country. For example, what people talk about or who the opinion leaders are on Twitter in the Japanese-speakingworld, remain largely unknown abroad. This is despite the fact that it is said that Japanese accounts for 25% of all the messages posted on Twitter!
…The products and cultural values that Japan gives life to are appreciated around the world. However, although Japanese intellectuals and people in the publishing industry have been extremely passionate about analyzing the latest trends abroad to present them to a Japanese audience, very few have shown interest in doing the opposite, analyzing changes in Japan to present them to an international audience. Genron is being established to blast a hole into such a situation.
I’m very excited about this. If Azuma can pull it off, this will be a fantastically useful view of true Japanese modern culture, especially as it’s changed in the past few decades.
Infinite Ryvius fascinates me.
Its creators set themselves a few major challenges:
- Can we tell a story with a very large cast of characters?
- Can we make a ”hard SF” anime with teenage protagonists?
- Can the ”submarine chase” approach to conflict work as a series?
The staff created a perfect setting for that challenge: a few hundred years in the future, 500 teenagers live and learn on a space station that amounts to a Vo Tech for space workers. A terrorist event kills all the adults and forces the trainees to evacuate to a military research ship that was hidden in the middle of the station. They then must attempt to get to civilization.
So: all your instructors are dead, and you have to work a completely unfamiliar ship and keep everyone fed and relatively happy.
Infinite Ryvius has several dozen named, main characters. This is kept manageable using a surprisingly effective technique of division.
The series begins by focusing on a group of half a dozen friends, all of them “small fry” on the station. We’re then introduced to the top class of seniors; once the instructors die, this class becomes responsible for managing the other 490 students. Later, a coup is staged by a new gang of teens.
Hisashi Hirai’s character designs help tremendously. Much as some folks hate his later designs post Gundam SEED, the designs here are less flashy and highly distinctive. When I look at the cast, while I can’t remember every name, I easily remember who’s who.
Infinite Ryvius establishes a hard SF setting, but its characters are teenagers thrown into an extreme situation.
This works surprisingly well. The characters have to deal with a situation that feels real. They aren’t developing superpowers; their food is rationed. It’s these prosaic concerns–well, along with the very real possibility of death–that drives them.
The large cast helps. One girl, Faina, is a member of a New Age-ish religion that teaches detachment. I was fascinated to watch the catalytic action as other characters reacted to her viewpoint. Several other characters served as similar catalysts for other characters. Heck, a lot of these teenagers just don’t like each other.
And all this is set in an unforgiving environment. If the ship is hit and a deck is damaged, teenagers die.
Which has lead some to label Infinite Ryvius as “Lord of the Flies in space.” I disagree. Lord of the Flies is about the complete disintegration of civilization once the trappings of civilization are removed. In Ryvius, the characters all work very hard to maintain civilization. Indeed, life aboard the Ryvius takes a fascist turn at one point in a desperate attempt to keep things ordered.
Das Boot In Space
Meanwhile, various military spaceships are sent out to stop the Ryvius. This leads to various tense battle sequences, but they are far more similar to submarine warfare than the exciting military fights in Gundam or Macross.
Because, frankly, that’s more realistic. There’s no point in getting close to an enemy when you can launch missiles from miles away. This is complicated by the Geduld (a sea of plasma that erupted from the sun and forms a dense cloud throughout the solar plane), but the overall style of combat remains: enclosed spaceships pummeling each other at distance.
This also works surprisingly well. Because the series generally focuses on issues of claustrophobic crowding and tense interpersonal conflicts, taking the same approach to spaceship combat feels natural.
Overall, I’m stunned that Ryvius accomplishes as much as it does. We’re lucky to have an anime that does one thing differently; Ryvius does several, and does them well.
I don’t really have anywhere to go with this; just want to register my frustration:
Anime is a visual medium. Yes, there are voice actors and sound effects and such. But the art is central to the experience.
And yet reviewers rarely talk about the art itself. What do the characters look like? How big are the eyes compared to other, similar works? How are the bodies drawn? How is hair rendered? What’s the color scheme?
On that last front, I’m amazed at the conservation of color in Akira. Considering the size of the film’s budget–US $11 million, many times that of most films–look at how many colors are used here on Tetsuo:
Three skin colors, two red cape colors, two shirt colors (white and gray), and two pant colors. That’s it. That’s not a complaint; the film remains beautiful. It’s smart economy.
I’m frustrated about mostly because I don’t talk about the art much either. I’ve almost completely missed this element of analysis and review.
Time to get better.
Last week, Square Enix announced the release of Summer Story, an iOS game aimed at teaching Japanese people English using a visual
You play as an anonymous student at an international college (yes, college!) in Japan. Three girls are taking classes there: a demure English girl, an energetic Australian girl, and a tsundere American girl. Each one has her own linear story line.
First off, let’s establish a few things: each girl is voiced by an actual native of her country, who can actually voice act. No broken English here, and each actress hits the appropriate emotional notes.
A sample of the Australian girl, in Listen mode:
A sample of the English girl, in Speak mode (so you’ll hear me speaking):
A sample of the American girl, in Speak mode (again, you’ll hear me speaking):
Gameplay is divided into two modes: Listen and Speak.
In Listen mode, you choose one girl’s story line to follow. She then speaks a sentence in English (both written in English on the screen and spoken by the actress). You get a menu of three possible answers, and must choose the one that’s an appropriate response to her question.
So, if she says “I’ve been thinking of visiting a traditional place in Japan,” your choices might be “How are you today?”, “No, it’s around the corner,” or ”How about a shrine?”
The tricky bit is the selection of possible answers: each one is chosen from another conversation with the same girl. So each one will be right at some point in the game. I actually chose a few wrong answers, because the ones I chose dealt with a slightly different tense or mode of action than the correct answer. It’s surprisingly subtle, and should teach Japanese people some solid English.
Every wrong answer removes one of the five hearts at the top of the screen (which
In Speak mode, by contrast, all three girls are available to you, but you can have only two conversations per day, and there are only 40 days in the semester. Since each girl has 30 conversations, you can only complete one girl’s story per run. I’m unclear on whether you’re supposed to balance your time with each girl in this mode.
Either way, there are no choices in Speak mode; instead, you’re given the correct response as English text, and you must speak it into the microphone. If you pronounced the English properly, you continue; if not, the girl loses a heart and you must retry the response. Particularly clear English earns you an
Each girl does actually have a complete story, and each girl has a secret that you uncover over the course of the game. None are particularly
The menus are all in English; the only confusing bit for me was an initial conversation with the player’s Japanese guidance counsellor, which is entirely in Japanese. I’m assuming she explains how to divide your time between girls in Speak mode.
Unfortunately, the gallery of special images remained empty no matter how much I played and no matter how many special images I unlocked while playing in Listen mode. Perhaps you have to get through Speak mode?
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing Summer Story. It’s a
Man, that’s moe.
I’ve recently been playing a very simple visual novel, and the linear plot got me thinking about story in anime, particularly those anime based on visual novels.
Some adaptations focus on a single girl’s plot, essentially following only one of the game’s plot lines to the exclusion of the others. Others divide their time between multiple different plot lines. ef — a tale of memories switches back and forth between two of the game’s plot lines. Amagami SS reboots itself every four episodes, telling each girl’s story sequentially.
What happens when you try to tell just one coherent story? Well, of course, that depends on the source material. From what I’ve learned, Fate/stay night‘s plot is quite linear, so the adaptation to anime is relatively straightforward. But a game like Air or Clannad splits into multiple different stories.
The obvious solution is to delve into each plot line all the way up to–but not including–its resolution. The boy can’t pick each girl (though that would be a funny adaptation).
This is actually helped by the ”Crying Girl” formula invented by Key. Each plot focuses mostly on getting to know each girl and learning the secret of her past that explains her current personality. In the game, this leads the protagonist to fall in love with her and choose her as his girlfriend. In an anime adaptation, his reaction can be pulled back into sympathy rather than love.
And this explains why the protagonists of these anime are so often accused of being
It’s an awkward arrangement, but it’s the only way to satisfy as many fans as possible.