Saturday, April 28 2007

The Warning Moment in Anime

Something crystallized for me when I read Steven den Beste's post at 20070426.2300.  He discusses anime that turned out to be different than what he expected at the start of the series.

A lot of series come packaged in a way that sells them as something other than what they turn out to be. If you have the wrong idea about the series, you're likely to be disappointed. Maybe if you know what it actually is you'll be disappointed anyway, but if you know ahead of time at least you won't be surprised. And you have a better chance of choosing things that fit your tastes.

This is something I've noticed over the years as well.  I like comedy anime, but generally not straight comedy.  Straight comedy series generally turn into a series of running gags.  I need plot, and for plot you need tension or conflict.  It can be the neverending series of trials between a couple of romantically involved highschool students or an attempt to save the entire universe from a deranged madman.

On the other hand, I generally hate anime that start as comedies and go all dark and depressing by the end.  If I wanted that, I'd take some horror series to start with.  Too many anime lose all humor by the middle of the series, leaving the end as a depressing slog of angst and despair.

One dead giveaway I look for in the series is the "warning point".  This is the point in the series where the creators give you a hint as to how serious they are going to make the series later.  Generally, it consists of a brief episode of violence far more serious than anything seen before in the series, and generally of a tragic and shocking nature.

If the series so far has consisted of the heroes bashing evil monsters and all of a sudden one of the heroes gets seriously wounded, this should serve as a warning to the audience.  "This is serious combat.  The heroes are not immortal and are at risk.  If we need to, we will kill them."

If the heroes screw up, and innocents are hurt or killed, this is also a warning to the audience.  "The heroes are on an important quest.  If they fail, it will come at a cost."

In lighter shows, often athletic or other contest series which don't involve the threat of death or injury to the main characters, a similar emotional reaction can be had by having our prodigy hero, or their more-skilled teacher, defeated once or twice early on.  The hero may eventually triumph, but the audience is put on notice that there is someone out there with the skill that the outcome is not a foregone conclusion.

Often, the series will then go back to a fair number of lighter episodes before the level of seriousness reaches the same peak or goes beyond it.  Sometimes, the seriousness never materializes.  But the fact that you know, emotionally, that the authors are willing to go to that level adds tension to the series.  Intellectually, you may know its just a TV show.  You may even know how it ends (or at least that there's a sequel in the works).  But that emotional reaction is there.

I have found that If this warning point doesn't appear and the series gets progressively darker and more depressing then I'm always disappointed by what the series ends as.

I think the best non-spoiler example of this I can give is American, actually.  It's part of the central Spiderman backstory that with Peter's powers come great responsibility.  Early on in the movie, Peter doesn't use his power when he has an opportunity, and as a result, his uncle gets killed.  Peter and the audience are on notice that there is a real price to failure in the world of the series, and it is demonstrated with the senseless death of an innocent.

For more examples, often spoilers, click More below:
[Spoilers are for: Martian Successor Nadesico, Trigun, Angelic Layer, Mahou Shojo Lyrical Nanoha, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya]


Posted by: Civilis at 03: 18 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Monday, April 23 2007

Anime, Pop Culture, and the Virginia Tech Killings

This post is an attempt to look at reaction to the killings at Virginia Tech through the lens of popular culture, specifically by examining how a isolated hobby such as anime relates to the overall American culture. There is not much that can be said about the tragedy itself that hasn't already been said, but hopefully we can learn something by studying the reaction to the killings without dishonoring those who were murdered.

Hi! My name is Civilis and I'm an Otaku.
Hi! My name is Civilis and I'm an Otaku. The consensus of the English usage of the word Otaku is to refer to a fan of anime, manga, or other Japanese popular culture. It is, at first glance, an odd hobby, and the reasons behind my personal interest in the subject are best left for another time. The reason such a hobby even exists is that it is a product of modern technology and the overall expansiveness of Western and specifically American culture.

In an earlier post, I looked at how people can be viewed as belonging to a number of subcultural groups, based on family background, education, occupation, political affiliation, and other interests. I proposed that these groupings overlapped to some degree, and we can examine where the overlap is greater or less than what would occur by chance and try to identify the roots of correlation. I finally expressed that I was more interested in groups based on hobbies or other interests rather than the more widely examined groups based on demographic factors.

The fact that there could be enough of an interest in a specific subcategory of foreign TV to drive a market is in itself pretty amazing. Commercially, it relies on the ability to be able to produce and distribute to those with the interest effectively, meaning that it has to be cheap enough to produce the DVD and it has to be distributed in areas with enough fans that it makes economic sense to invest in selling the product. The hobby now relies on the
internet to spread interest in the hobby and allow geographically diverse fans to communicate. In short, the hobby is a product of modern economics and communications. Without the ability to use modern communications to reach a widely distributed but thinly spread fanbase, or the economic ability to bring a complicated product over and adapt it across a language barrier, the hobby would not exist.

But any hobby, interest, or other grouping relies on reaching enough people to sustain it, no matter the technology level. Take a look at popular entertainment: theater, music, and (later) movies. Before the ability to record, these had to be produced locally, meaning you had to have sufficient population density to get the talent naturally or a patron with the money to bring the talent together, and you listened to what was available locally. Outside of a major urban area, choice was limited, and therefore the correlation between geographic location and specific entertainment styles was high. If you lived in this area, you listed to that variety of music or saw that sort of theater. The ability to record music or turn theater into movies allowed a wealthy patron (or group of investors) to distribute choice entertainment to a wider audience, so one had gained the ability to choose between what was available locally and what was popular enough to be distributed nationally, and the amount available on a national level expanded as the number of producers of recorded entertainment expanded. Radio and TV enabled the expansion of single source of entertainment, say a radio or TV station, to serve a wider area, which caused competition between overlapping stations (this has, alas, been lost to some degree because each station now seems to be part of a larger, multi-station chain).

To summarize, technological improvements have meant that producers of hobbies and interests can produce more effectively, which has enabled more choice for consumers, and has driven the explosion of diversified interests we see today.

How does this relate to the reaction to the shooting at Virginia Tech? There seems to be a rush to blame one or more cultural factors, and specifically cultural factors that are subcultural groups that tend to correlate with teens and college age adults and those which have an established correlation with antisocial activities: video games, violent movies, and rap music. I play games, including video games. I am constantly amazed as to the sheer inaccuracy of media reporting on this subject, and on any hobby I have knowledge of. I suspect it is because the sheer number of cultural groups is such that most members of the media have little experience with many hobbies and interests.

The killer played video games. Therefore video games must be bad. We see this sort of logic all the time. In an earlier post, I looked at why there may be a correlation between political leanings and interest in anime, and saw that while there may be a correlation, it is based on indirect factors. But talking heads, especially talking heads with an agenda, can't or won't take the time to see if the correlation is indirect. Perhaps anti-social kids are more prone to find video games an engaging source of entertainment and are more prone to having destructive psychological problems build without receiving intervention.

Is there a negative correlation between being heavily involved in politics and playing video games? Of course, between the age and the time factor, there are obvious reasons most people in politics don't have any first hand experience with video games to see how absolutely incoherent their knowledge of the subject is. Similar conclusions can be drawn from other hobbies blamed for violence.

At some fundamental level, American and Western culture is both strengthened and weakened by the overwhelming number of hobbies and interests anyone can choose to invest time in. Fundamentally, we must recognize that we have much less in common with our neighbors and colleagues than we once did, and that this freedom to pursue different courses of happiness is a fundamental good that nonetheless has a cost.

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 27 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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