Monday, May 30, 2011

What You’re Missing: Happy Flight Review

Welcome to a new segment where The Angry Otaku features “things Japanese” that aren’t necessarily anime. Way back when I was still a little bitty Otaku, when the internet consisted of BBSs accessed via 2400 baud, and VHS was king, I was in the early stages of anime fandom so to speak. There in those stages, there’s always a period where a fan is in the “if it’s not anime, I don’t care” mode of media consumption. Kaiju, martial arts, chambara, drama, name it, if it was live action, I didn’t care.

Fortunately I was able to grow out of that, and it is in the hopes of widening the range of Japanese popular entertainment consumed by AmerOtakus, that this new monthly segment was created. Look for "What You're Missing" on the last Monday of every month here... at least until I get tired of doing it.

Happy Flight

Whole movie.

A great “gateway” production for anime fans that are not too open to live action, Happy Flight is a 2008 comedy from director Shinobu Yaguchi, known to American Otaku audiences through titles like Water Boys and Swing Girls. The film follows the inner workings of both airplane and airport, revolving around All Nippon Airways flight 1980, a 747 going from Japan to Hawaii.

Opening with quick introductions of the various characters through a montage where we bounce around locations like a ball in a pinball machine, the film quickly sets the overall lighthearted tone through scenes featuring some intra-company rivalry between cabin crew and ground staff, as well as the trepidations our main characters feel as they enter their first day on new assignments for ANA. On board the flight, the film doubles character juxtaposition by pairing the two “fish out of water” main characters off of their supervisors, who have tough reputations and come off as strict, stoic, and humorless. First with the newly promoted pilot Kazuhiro Suzuki (Seiichi Tanabe) being evaluated on his first flight as Captain by the extremely serious and deadpan evaluator Captain Harada (Saburo Tokito), and second with the enthusiastic new flight attendant Etsuko Saito (Haruka Ayase), whose excitement soon fades after a prompt chewing out by her new boss, the notoriously strict Reiko Yamazaki (Shinobu Terajima). However their confidence and ability to work under pressure are soon put to the test, when ANA flight 1980 encounters serious problems after takeoff. Needing to return to Japan, the plane turns around only to face a vicious typhoon which stands between the now crippled plane and the safety of the runway.

Happy Flight dedicates quite a bit of itself to the people of often overlooked airport supporting functions. From trainee mechanics, to air traffic controllers, from the ticket agents, to the guy who keeps birds away from the runway, the film introduces you to each one as their humanity emerges in the course of their stressful jobs. These are that types of characters who often get a one dimensional treatment in other films, but in Happy Flight, the receive a well-deserved second dimension. Although some may argue that doing so creates the unintended consequence of making three-dimensional characters into two-dimensional ones, the film itself is not hurt by this. But unlike other movies featuring airplanes, Happy Flight doesn’t need three-dimensional characters, as it doesn’t take itself too seriously like Flight Plan, nor does it aim to be the campy schlock of Airplane. The film sits in the perfect balance between funny and still believable, and works perfectly with the character depth it reaches, because each group of characters operates within their own bubble. The pilots never interact with the mechanics, who go through a desperate search through the hangar on their own time to ensure that flight 1980 is not suffering from what could be a fatal engine problem. The airport ground staff, led by the "calm under pressure" Masaharu Takahashi (played by veteran actor Ittoku Kishibe), go through the stressful ordeal of guiding a 747 to a safe runway in the middle of a typhoon, but never even see the flight attendants who must keep the passengers safe and calm during the same ordeal. In this way, the film sets up an orbital matrix of character groups, completely separated from each other but all revolving around the same central nucleus, in this case the critically wounded ANA flight 1980.

The Japanese work ethic is very into principles of knowledge-creation management, and in this feel-good film, there are plenty of examples of how the junior staff have their confidence boosted through hands-on experience under the watchful guidance of their more seasoned supervisors. There are a lot of hidden meanings and social constructs present in Happy Flight which are nowhere to be found in American cinema, and the active knowledge creation each character goes through is the perhaps the strongest one of these.

American anime fans will quickly feel right at home watching this movie, as the cast and direction amplify the types of humor and emotional situations often reserved for comedic titles. Love, loss, goofy sidekicks, deadpan personalities in tense situations, and even a few physical gags, are all pleasantly spaced throughout this relatively short (100min) romp thought a day in the life of a Japanese airport in crisis-mode. Anime fans will also recognize some cast members like Seiichi Tanabe who has voiced characters in Tramps Like Us and Twin Spica and has played Issei Tomine in the Drops of God adaptation. Also from Japanese TV, comedian Kami Hiraiwa and actress Tomoko Tabata team up to form the very “Pinky & The Brain” style team of ANA ticket agents.

Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?
I think so Brain, but last time we ran out of baggage claim stickers and dolphin tranquilizers way too early.

Happy Flight has been accused of being corporate propaganda since it’s about an ANA flight and ANA staff who do ANA things in a movie made by ANA (did I mention ANA?). But for an American this just isn’t as true as it seems. Yes, the airline and all the characters come in a positive light, but it is still a very imperfect human one. The trappings, foibles, and emotional nuances that make us all real and all different are not hidden from the audience for fear of “hurting the brand.” Rather, they are shown directly to the audience as a vital part of each and every character, adding a very high degree of believability to the film. The fact that such a movie would never ever be made by the likes of guitar-breaking United, dog-killing Delta, or suck in your gut Southwest, is not lost on American audiences in the least. The genuine way that ANA portrays a much higher work ethic among its staff is a great and refreshing reminder to Americans that at one time, that kind of thing was possible and just might be possible again, and leave you with a smile on your face (at least until the next time the functionally retarded high school drop out from the TSA confiscates your diet Dr. Pepper and steals your watch, while fondling your balls).

Finally, because of recent events involving US Air 1545 (The Hudson River bird-strike landing) and the unfortunate fate of Air France 447 (freezing of the pitot tubes), this film will actually be easier to follow and better appreciated, as now most audiences will be familiar with the perils that the characters in the film face, from hearing about real life examples.

Happy Flight does a great job in porting over the type of theatrical mechanics present in most anime, to a live action medium without the need for heavy visual effects a-la Cutie Honey or Scott Pilgrim. Anime Conventions: this one should be on your video schedule if it isn't already.

You can find a subtitled copy of Happy Flight on, although I have no idea how legit that copy is (might be the Hong Kong release). The region 2 Japanese copies tend to be very pricey, with the Blue Ray special edition topping out at 72,000 yen which at today’s crappy exchange rate is about a million dollars US. This is a movie that you don’t need on Blue Ray though (there aren't any major effects which would benefit from it). The regular region-2 editions are (somewhat) cheaper, but it should be noted that some of them do not include English Subtitles. Give Bookoff a try if you are near one of their locations and bring your “must have” list, because they will probably have other things you want as well.

Oh, and of course you can always watch it at your seat if you’re on an ANA flight.

Helpful hints: What to look for on Japanese DVD labeling:
(Now this applies to anime as well) When shopping for Japanese market DVDs, most of the time it’s on the internet, where the various subtitle info and other specs are listed in a language that you can read. However, in the event you are browsing at a store in person (Kinokunia or Book Off for example), and you turn over the DVD case only to be met with a whole bunch of Kanji you can’t read, here is what to look for: The word is “Jimaku” 字幕 (じまく)“subtitles.” Now that’s half what you need to know, with the other half being “Eigo” 英語 which is (say it with me now) “English.” The reason this is important, is that often Japanese DVDs will have Japanese subtitles only, so just looking for字幕 without determining the language, can get you a DVD with nice crisp Japanese or Chinese subtitles and a look of confused disappointment across the faces of your friends. Let’s look at some examples:

Here’s the back of the Japanese release of Kill Bill (why the Japanese version? Because it’s not censored by the MPAA like the American release is). As you can see, there’s a pictogram that indicates 2 tracks of available subtitles. Let’s have a closer look:

Ok that top line is 日本語字幕; which is “Japanese Subtitles”, and I’ll bet you can guess what that second one is; 英語字幕 “English Subtitles” indeed. This doesn’t seem weird until you realize that the movie itself is in English and so they’re subtitling what the actors are already saying.

But moving on, just remember when buying Japanese DVDs, you want to look for “英語字幕” on the back, if you want to be sure you will be enjoying English subs. As for linguistic accuracy, some releases are better than others, with bigger budget larger releases more likely to offer this feature over smaller releases. Additionally, if you're looking at the back info and notice that the word "English" and "Subtitles" are spelled out just like that in Roman lettering, then there are significant chances are you are looking at a Hong Kong release.

Finally, a word on Region Coding. If you don't have a region-free player, then none of this matters to you anyway. I've owned one for so long, that when I bring DVDs to other people's houses I completely forget that they may not be able to play them. Buying a region free player is totally worth it, I have a Pioneer DV444 from, and it still works great after 10 years. The ability to watch any DVD I want, skipping the retarded FBI warning and being able to go straight to the menu without having to endure trailer after trailer is something I enjoy taking for granted, and so will you. You don't have to go for expensive options either. Chinese manufactures often spit out some no-name brands that aren't region locked and don't button-disable. Monitor some tech forums for when these hit your local Best Buy and you can pick one up for $40 or so.

Happy hunting.


Monday, May 23, 2011

I for one, welcome our new Chinese overlords.

Welcome to the century of American decline.

It's not what you think... ok maybe it is.

As I have mentioned before, what little impact that the American market has on anime and manga productions in terms of creative influence has more or less evaporated with the market bubble bursting a few years ago. Now it seems that China’s emergence as a substantial market force will ensure that such influence never returns (at least not easily), by expanding its own gravitational field into the minds of the key decision makers at studios and publishers who tell the artists and writers what to do.

Case in point, Sanrio’s Hello Kitty theme park is expanding in to China, not the USA. If you think that it’s geographic proximity that is the reason for this, then you seriously need to go back to 8th grade economics. I haven’t seen the actual data and analytics that no doubt took place in abundance before an investment of this magnitude got made, but I am quite sure that I can imagine what they looked like. The (very simplified) end results being something like:

Do this equation in the USA and the answer is more of a “meh” with a higher risk assessment based on lower brand awareness, higher costs for labor and what I am sure are more stringent safety regulations. This kind of business migration has been going on for a very long time in certain segments like manufacturing and agri-business (where Brazil is making a killing). Things progressing as they are, this is going to start happening in the entertainment industry as well and that includes manga and anime, as well as games, and stuff that has yet to be invented.

Many of the responses that came in from the Galapagos Article, seemed to miss the point it made, and argued that the absence of input from the American market was a good thing. That it created a unique difference in the type of entertainment media that manga and anime develop into, and it was exclusively because of that difference that manga and anime were “good.” However, that’s a flawed argument which seemed to be lost on those readers, despite it being highlighted in the same piece with the “mayonnaise on pizza” example. The Japanese put mayo on pizza as a standard, it developed because of lack of input from the American market, and it’s very different from American commercial pizza. Yet, most Americans don’t find it particularly appealing, and that’s because this quality of “difference” by itself is no guarantee of success in other markets. There has to be more than that in the equation.

It is the “more-than-that” which is in danger of being turned in a direction wherein manga and anime may become more appealing to other markets and less appealing to Americans. This is where China will play a large role. While still regarded as the “wild west” in terms of copyright there are two major factors that will continue to make it an emerging force in commercial media: 1) The government is still trying to crack down on copyright violations because as they enter a global economy, not being able to stop IP and brand piracy makes them look bad, and 2) Size Matters; Even if your property suffers 50% piracy, that’s still the other 50% of the Chinese market that didn’t pirate it, and 50% of China is 200% of the entire USA. That’s a profitable gambit no matter how you look at it. This means that when faced with the decision of story-lines, music, translations, release schedules, operations, and marketing input, China is going get a seat at the table.

It’s no guarantee that just because there is more of a minding of Chinese market and cultural sensibilities that it will result in an evolution of manga and anime into something that becomes unwatchable by American otaku standards... but there’s no guarantee that won’t happen either. The Chinese entertainment market is still under the choke-hold of a totalitarian government, hellbent on making sure that even the most abstract negative representations of itself or anything close to it, are ruthlessly stamped out. Creative freedom does not live in China, despite the PR blitz. Many of the citizens in the PRC are ok with that, and are drinking the kool aid. When I was living in Tokyo, the PRC Chinese students I was with actually made statements like “China has never violated human rights” with a straight face. When confronted by the below photo, they actually called it a fake, as they had never seen it before and had no idea what it was, when or why it happened.


So here you have a huge market, wearing blinders to their own government’s imposed artistic limitations, who want to see certain story lines and character archetypes that are quite unique and mostly dissimilar to the ones that the manga and anime market currently produce. Producers are actively including native Chinese speakers in development planning sessions, while native English is nowhere to be found. Size and logistics are really working against the USA in this situation, and with the American economy fucked every which way, it’s not an attractive place to be. If you don’t believe me just ask Tokyo Pop.

The reason this is a serious concern, is that this is a “pull” and not a “push” situation, and that makes for a deeper and more long-lasting set of changes. China is an attractive market and the motivation to do business there is coming from a genuine desire within foreign companies, not from China demanding this, that, or the other. There is no shortage of precedence when it comes to companies agreeing to play by Chinese rules to enter Chinese markets, but in the case of art & entertainment in particular, there have been no high-contrast external examples, until March of 2011. MGM (now Touchstone) announced that they would be changing the “bad guys” in the Red Dawn remake from the PRC to the DPRK (the DPRK is North Korea btw), and make this change retroactively all in post-production. This is the most glaring example of artistic story being bent to the will of industry executives, because those executives do not want to offend Chinese sensibilities. No Chinese bad guy for you!

The reason for this goes far beyond worrying about the Chinese box office for this one particular film. The reason this is happening is because this property is now over at Touchstone, and The Mouse wants in on China bad, and he's already plenty tied up in Chinese investments even now. To make Chinese investors angry is never a good idea, especially in his situation. With this change, he can claim he’s done something of value for the great People’s Republic by swapping them out for the Norkos (even though that makes the film itself seem pretty retarded... ok more retarded). An extreme example to be sure, but it proves the possibility of this happening not only exists, but can be brought to fruition. In order not to offend PRC investors and Government (because you can't separate those two), an American movie playing to an American audience is being significantly altered. Think about that for a minute.

This is from the movie.

I can't really get too angry about that though, as this change wasn't brought by the hand of a government agency, but rather the forces within the private sector, a field in which I operate in. Complaining about it is one thing, but condemning it is a bit too hippie for me. Since I don't own any Disney or MGM shares, the only influence I can exert is that I could either go see it or not go see it, buy the DVD or not buy it. One could also legitimately argue that other films (particularly ones form the UK) have had to make changes to be better adapted to an American audience because the studio wants in on the US Market, and this kind of thing isn't new. But this is a case of a film aimed at it's own domestic market being changed in its own domestic market for the sake of other business interests, not to make the film itself more competitive. That adds another dimension.

Back to the topic at hand; If it wasn’t already clear a few years ago, it should be very clear now, that manga and anime are drifting away from the need to even participate in the US Market. All you undergrad kiddies taking Japanese 101 and thinking you’ll be getting a job in the industry are just setting yourself up for a world of disappointment worse than the one Harold Camping is living in right now (Camping may be upset, but he’s still sitting on a pile of money, you'll have student loans to deal with).

The worst part about this situation, is that the only way the US market can increase its viability (outside of stopping scanlation and fansub piracy), is by getting Big Hollywood back into the picture. These players can shell out for massive theatrical licenses and marketing to the point where they are still the biggest kids on the block. This in turn, creates a market for a great many smaller licenses and spin-off productions which generate enough revenue to stay relevant. Unfortunately, that has been tried, and the result was...

Worse than going to the dentist.

The final curve-ball in this mess which is working against American otaku, is that the USA is still dealing with the near-fatal cultural damage caused by the CCA and the MPAA. Their many years of bully pulpit blathering, and acts of financial terrorism had firmly entrenched any works based on comic illustration (that includes all graphic novels and all animation) were viewed strictly as for kids or the “Family Segment” as modern marketing likes to call it. While it’s true that modern audiences are leaving those notions behind, and movie ratings have been exposed for the scam that they are, this mode of thinking is still much more firmly entrenched where it counts; the investment community. The lines that many audience members no longer see which restrict comics and animation to kiddy-land, are still very indelibly fixed when it comes to project funding. I once worked on a huge pitch for a *Big Toy Company that isn’t Mattel*, with a martial arts anime geared for the 8-14 boys segment. I put a lot of hours into it and was just starting when I was cut off by one of the suits, who said it wasn’t appropriate for boys because (get this) there was a female supporting character in it. Yep, the exec took a look at the crowd-shot with all the characters, noticed that one of them was a chick, and flat out stopped everything right there. When I pointed out that there were less female characters in my property than the multi billion dollar property that was Pokemon, the exec retorted that Pokemon was a “fluke” property. Not caring to ever do business with *Big Toy Company that isn’t Mattel* again (whoopsie me) I responded with “You don’t know what you’re talking about, it isn’t the 1980’s any more,” turned, and left. The mentality of firmly drawn demographic lines and age-exclusive mediums is still very much alive where it counts, and doing as much damage as it possibly can. With that mode of thinking still posing a significant barrier to audience development and engagement, China wins again, because that problem doesn’t exist there. They've got other problems to be sure, but that's not one of them.

This isn’t going to be instant, and the PRC does a great job at putting its foot in its mouth when it comes to trying to sustain an image of something other than Stalinism for the 21st Century. But business has to go where the money is, and people don’t care. If you cared, you wouldn’t have “made in China” stamped on all the crap in your house and probably the stuff your wearing right now.

To conclude, this is not a political observation. I am not Becking about some impending takeover a-la Red Dawn (it's a movie dude... empty calories for wasting the mind's time). I'm talking about rather pedestrian market forces here. These forces make certain facts a likely reality. The fact that in the future (not instantly, but within 10 years), the Chinese market will be a significant source of influence in Japan's manga and anime industry, is something that I think is quite likely. Additionally, it could mean some very good things for the industry and the type of productions that will be made, or it could mean not so good things and manga & anime it will have less of an appeal to American audiences and shrink its American footprint. It's a coin-toss. So prepare to gradually be exposed to manga and anime that are still “different,” but not the same "different" as we're used to.

I'm still gonna go see it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Summer Wars: It’s the audience’s fault.


I really hate how I can go to a forum on ANN or Kotaku, and hear all kinds of bitching about the evil “industry” and its “profit.” Profitability has become a dirty word these days, and not without just cause, but this is just overkill. Since the days of the Ford Pinto and even further back, the “profitable” bottom line has been synonymous with cold uncaring indifference to the human tolls that business operations have, and anyone who now will forever hate the letters B and P, will know what it feels like to have that trigger go off.

But there’s another side to “profitability,” and that is one which sustains a functioning economy. Without profit, manga doesn’t get printed, anime doesn’t get animated, and doesn’t pay UPS to drive a DVD to your house after you click a button or two. One of the main targets of criticism that the quest for “Profitability” in entertainment media has always had, is the one painting it as a cause of a corruptible influence when an already established story is expanding into other mediums. For example, in the new “Star Trek” movie, the Engine Room looks like a friggin cornmeal warehouse and not like what every Star Trek fan knows a starship engine room should look like. Why? Because “Star Trek Fans” aren’t a large enough movie-going audience to cater to at the expense of 80% of the audience who only knows 2 things about Star Trek and they’re both “Beam me up Scotty!” Rather than make the set authentic, thereby creating alienation within most of the audience members (and making the poor Star Trek-literate guy have to deal with all the “what’s that thing?” questions whispered to him), the filmmakers went with a backdrop that would effectively convey the feeling of “Engine Room” to 99% of the audience. For the uber-fans (10% of the people in the theater), this was awful and hurtful, but for the rest of the audience (90% of the people in the theater) and to the movie studio, it was a good move to make.

So otaku-nerds, let us not react in anger at changes in continuity or blatant contradictions and anachronisms which occur to us, for in the end it is for profitability, and without such things, none of this is going to get made.

Why am I bringing any of this up? Well, I finally got around to watching Summer Wars. When I was living in Tokyo, I was in so much work up to my eyeballs and money was so tight thanks to a shitty dollar (yes, living in Tokyo and getting paid in USD. It sucked), that I didn’t have time to check it out when it opened, despite the fact I wanted to. I did manage to catch Redline there though when it opened. Sweet.

Watching Summer Wars, there were a number of things that bothered me a bit. It’s a great movie, and I love how (like almost all anime features) it doesn’t feel it needs to spell everything out to a stupid American audience which must have an IQ of 12 like Hollywood productions. Younger anime fans who have tried to watch anime films with their parents know what this can lead to. Endless interjections of “What’s that?” “Who’s that?” “Why are they doing that thing?” “What do they mean by ...?” Don’t you just sometimes want to yell at the person that you haven’t seen the movie either and you don’t have a secret set of headphones where more things are being explained to you and not them, so could they please just shut the fuck up and watch?!. Anyway, Summer Wars is nice. It makes you follow the story without spoon-feeding it to the audience, escalates emotional commitment, and pays off with a great big finish. The problem is that there are certain times when that process is interrupted and you are jerked out of the movie by something a bit too hard to accept... but only for that 10% of the audience who can see what the problem is in the first place. Everyone else is enjoying the movie, but you can only mostly enjoy it, because something’s bothering you that isn’t being addressed. Why not? For the sake of that 90% of the audience who aren’t bothered by it, that's why not. That's how you make a profitable movie. No matter how wide or narrow your target audience is, there is always a threshold for the lowest common denominator, and a need to meet it in order to make your money back. So it's not good to dwell on thole outlying things that don't need to be listed.

But I'm going to list those issues here anyway.

Kenji the Herbivore: This is just an opinion more than the rest of these issues, but fucking seriously, the Herbivore Male is sending Japan to hell in a handcart faster than anything else. There’s cute ineptitude, and then there’s “I’m an a-social idiot who wouldn’t know what to do with a girl if she landed naked right on my...” let’s stop there, I’m sure you get the idea. I have to believe that the whole indecisive-male in the face of blatant girl-interest grew out of a backlash from the 1980’s “cool guy” as an otaku audience was never going to be cool enough to actually actively attract girls. Since then the “I don’t know what to do with an interested girl” character has been a staple of harem programs like Tenchi Muyo. The thing about Tenchi the character, is that he always (more or less) puts himself into a socially awkward sexual dead-possum mode to avoid hurting the feelings of the other competing girls and not because he was totally inept. It was always the notion that he’d piss one girl off by going for the other, which kept that kind of behavior at least mostly believable. When there are no competing love/humping interests, for a guy to act like that is only cute for the initial character introductions. If his balls don’t drop for the whole movie, you just want to punch him.

Why this doesn't matter:
But this personality archetype has become so ingrained into anime, that it would actually throw audiences off if Kenji both liked math AND was good with the ladies. If that were the case, he would have seemed too perfect, or perhaps may have been hiding sinister motives.

...He's just waiting for Sasami to leave the room.

Social Media Spaces: So somehow Norad, JR, Heart Monitors, and who knows what else have all allowed OZ (the furry wet dream version of facebook) access to systems that are guarded at the highest level? WTF? I know, the intro mentioned that defense agencies, big businesses, and all kinds of other major entities have established presences on OZ, but actually causing a threat to these entities through that presence is like thinking that by hacking into you are somehow going to gain access to strategic missile command. And don’t give me that “the hacked accounts from NORAD used the same passwords for OZ as they do for their sensitive systems” bullshit, because ...really? Really? Is that so easy to believe because that kind of thing happens now all the time where people with access to defense grids can use the same password for their fucking Twitter as they can for super-secret-classified-network? No matter how bad-ass this AI is, it’s not going to gain anything special by taking over some weirdo future version of Second Life.

Why this doesn't matter:
But “War Games” the sequel isn’t what this movie was about, that extra dimension would just be extraneous and take away from the more important character development.

“Hacking”: Ok so Kazuma is some gaming bad-ass, and takes on a computer program in an online fighting game. They start to fight and you hear... tappity tap tap... The whole. Fucking. Time. Ever play Street Fighter? Ever play Street Fighter but typing shit? What the fuck, is he writing brand new code right there for the command “kick now” or something? This is a result of lots of Hollywood dribble, where whenever anyone does anything with a computer ever, you hear keyboard typing at an inhuman pace, even though the applications where text editing would actually have any effect don’t work like that... ever.

Why this doesn't matter:
 But the audience needs to know this is some very important computer stuff happening on the interwebs, so Kazuma holding a console-style controller is out, even though it would be a more accurate portrayal of what’s going on. Let’s also not forget that a vast amount of web interaction in Japan (way more than the USA) happens via hand-held mobile device, where tapping on buttons must happen for everything, so it’s not a huge deal for most Japanese audiences. Kazuma is Hacking the GPS system? Oh that’s totally normal... they have trucked in a supercomputer that is running... an online fighting game program... which is being programmed in real time by a 13 year old... it’s ok, it’s “computer stuff.”


Low Earth Orbit vs Outer Space: So the Arawashi orbital satellite (remember "orbital") is a probe that is supposed to slam into a comet or something so researchers can study it. Comets are far away, even when they show up in our neighborhood. If a comet came by earth so close as to be able to be impacted by an earth orbiting satellite (an area where there are lots and lots of other satellites doing other things), then this would be a fucking earth shattering event. We’re talking close enough to cause a serious scare that it could hit earth and cause an ELE. Now, since the film opens with normal people in their normal lives and no riots in the streets, we have to assume that whatever comet/asteroid thing that the Arawashi was supposed to hit, it was far enough away from earth as to not make the entire human race collectively wet themselves... you know... fucking outer space! what is Arawashi doing hanging out in orbit? Remember Deep Impact ? (No, not the movie, the actual NASA probe. I'll give you a hint: No you don’t remember it and neither does 90% of the audience). It took 7 months to get from Earth, to where this comet was, by flying on a rocket... then the impactor itself took 5 days to hit the thing AFTER it was launched at it... FROM SPACE! This Arawashi thing should already be on a trajectory to slam into this interplanetary body very far away at uber-speeds and no amount of AI is going to be able to turn it around. Even if it could, there’s no way in hell it would be using GPS as a targeting reference because A) It’s above the GPS sats in space, and B) Why the fuck-shit-hell would a piece of space equipment designed to hit another object in space be equipped with GPS targeting sensors, OR atmospheric navigational hardware (wings & fins). These things would only be effective for hitting something on EARTH! It’s not a fucking j-dam!

Why this doesn't matter:
But the average audience member is only going to be aware of “smart bomb video” circa Gulf War part 1, and the very scientific principle of “big thing go boom.” So taking time to explain how we get around these problems isn't worth it.

E = mc2: Ok so something the size of a school bus is heading towards the earth faster than a ballistic missile and you manage to get it to miss the mark by... what did that look like, maybe 300 feet? I don’t know what the actual mass of that thing was, but it was made to be a high velocity impact device. Let’s look at Deep Impact again, and remember that the thing that slammed into the comet weighed (on earth) 816lbs (370kg) and was traveling at 10kps. It was a little bigger than washing machine, and the explosion released energy equivalent to 5 tons of TNT. That's 5 Bunker Busters (or 5 Pepcons) going off all at once. The impactor in the movie looks considerably bigger than that. Something that size traveling at speeds like that is going make the impact entire area look like Tunguska... MOAB level power being unleashed by this thing is not a stretch by any means.

Why this doesn't matter:
The audience has no idea what Tunguska was, is, or what it means, and they don't care, because the movie shows that they all had a close call and saved the day in the end by working together as a family in unison (Spoiler Alert; that bit you just read). So the filmmakers didn’t need to bother explaining how something that big wouldn't blast that entire mountain into dust.

Hi, it's just me, 1 ton yield here, yeah, there are 20 of us, and we all wanna come in at once... you can't stop us by the way.

North Koreans: There are stories of how errant weather satellites have come within a hair of starting World War 3 because they flew over the north pole when Russian missile command hadn’t had their morning coffee yet and scared the pants off of everyone there. Something falling out of the sky from space heading straight at Northern Japan is going to look like one thing: North Korean Missile Attack. I don’t care what systems are or aren’t under the control of “Love Machine,” it’s almost impossible to suspend belief that some missile shaped tungsten death-rod the size of a bus heading for Japan isn’t going to have missile bases in North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, and any US subs that happen to be in the area, totally losing their shit over this. I honestly think this might be weighing in the back of the minds of a higher portion of the audience in Japanese theaters, more than the other points I've brought up, due to the recent scares that happened there form thsi sort of thing (during the height of the N. Korean missile tests, there were Patriot Missile launchers set up across the street from my apartment... you know, just in case).

Why the NorKos don't matter:
But since this scene comes at a crescendo of such high cinematic intensity, the audience doesn't notice the problematic potential. It would be like trying to pay attention to a candle in the middle of a forest fire.

It was either this or 99 Red Balloons.

These are all necessary problems. What I mean by that, is that if any of them were addressed or compensated for withinthe film, it would have been just a case of spending time and money to animate needless sequences which would explain technical things that didn’t need explaining because the audience doesn't care. It would take away resources that the film had put to much better use in the story telling. Fixing or addressing these issues would in no way make this movie any better, and in fact would probably detract form it. In short, fixing these issues would have actually made the film worse, not better.

Where we run into actual trouble is when American audiences get a hold of it. Am I saying Americans are smarter than Japanese? Fuk the hell no. What I am saying is that this film is going to end up being followed by a smaller, niche-type audience in the US, as opposed to a wide general audience as in Japan. The American audience is going to be a pinhole-lense concentration of the top of pyramid fans (the ones who are really into this "annie-may" stuff), representing only a small fraction of any movie going audiences as a whole. Further exacerbating the problem, is that this concentration that gravitates towards anime in the USA, tends to contain the demographic clusters that are going to be much more literate in the types of scientific dynamics that these problems grow out of (science, computing, etc), and so a larger portion of the American audience is going to find trouble suspending disbelief to the degree that this movie is 100% enjoyable.

 But this movie also addresses this problem as well; by not giving a crap what non-Japanese audiences think of it (seriously, do you really think they had a strategy session where the American market came up and had any effect on the treatment, characters, or overall tone, or even the marketing of this film? ...I’ve been in meetings like this, and the answer is no). The reasons these little holes go unaddressed here, are because this film is trying to appeal to a general audience, or in other words; be profitable. Not "buy a new Bentley for every day of the week" profitable, but more along the lines of "let's pay our staff a living wage, and invest what's left in the the next movie project" kind of profitable. Fans should not have a problem with this.

The film is incredible. It’s an involving story that does what cinematic anime has often been best at, and that’s produce a strong character driven series of events peppered with elements that are just too impractical to use in live action. No matter how you slice it, to try and recreate the scenes in OZ with live action and green screen would just produce something reminiscent of a bad Next Generation episode, where we’re trapped in a character’s mind or something. The film did a great job at being genuinely entertaining, and is a perfect gateway film for anime-ignorant family members (let them watch the dub if they want...). The best part is, that any nitpicky problems you have with it, can be placed at the feet of the lesser intellects in the general audience, and are totally not a result of you and your lack of social skills. Totally.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Technical Difficulties and Tantanmen

It seems like some drafts and other upcoming posts have gotten scrambled and/or lost.

You will never, succeed. Success is the fortune of only a chosen few... not you.

Long story short, next post is May 16.'

In the mean time, I guess I can lament giving up the first-mover advantage by neglecting to register "TheAngryOtaku" as a username. Nope, some other dork got there first, and now theangryotaku channel on youtube is this crapfest. So do keep in mind that it's not me if you come across it on youtube. Such are the perils of establishing a personal brand on interweb2.0. I had wanted to make a few video posts but now I'm gonna have to use or something like that.

Also, this weekend was Anime North in Toronto. I still am probably not allowed there anymore, ever since the disaster that was the execs at Crash (who were not me) wanting to go and do the anime convention thing, and then showing up, checking into the hotel, and then blowing the convention because it was "too nerdy" to go hang out at Tower Records in downtown Toronto, leaving me to explain things and take the fall. I stayed and had a nice time, but the con ppl were rightly pissed off. Thankfully, it was the only convention where they ever showed up. I'm sure something awesome happened there but I wasn't paying attention. Maybe I'll go to Otakuthon in Montreal. My passport needed renewing this month anyway and so now I've got a new one that's got nothing in it, so may as well get some Canada in there.

I guess I could have pulled out some old fandom stuff or scanned that Otakon 1994 program book, just to keep this anime related. Or maybe pseudo gripe about feeling a bit homesick over my old Tokyo apartment, but then realize that it was built in 1972 and in all likelihood took a serious beating in that earthquake, and then feel happy about not being there when I see the current exchange rate. Not so fab.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that many people reading this haven't had the experience of living in Tokyo (even if it was a grinding dehumanizing existence) so stuff like this is worth sharing. So let me just say this... If you find yourself in Tokyo and you're on a budget (you're reading this, so I know you will have limited funds) get over to the lower floor of the Palaceside Building at Takebashi station (that's off the Tozai subway line, but walkable from lots of places, and it's right on the moat of the Imperial Palace Park)... anyway go in there and look for a place called Shanghai somethin-or-other written all in Kanji,so it's "上海市" and then some other stuff I don't remember (it's got one of these in the logo so look for that too). It is there you can get the straight up best tantamen in the universe, and for under 1000 yen. (FYI, the best things to eat in Tokyo are in small places where literally everyone in the lunch-rush has ordered the exact same thing because it's so f-ing awesome... that's how I found this place and discovered tantanmen in the first place).

Tantanmen, although not being mentioned in Shampoo's Nekohanten Menu Song, is a big staple of lunchie-munchie noodle houses in Japan. Though the origins are Chinese, that's like saying the crap that you find over at "Great Wall Buffet" over in Peoria is authentic Chinese cuisine. No, tantanmen is one of the few Japanese dishes that are normally spicy. It's also easy to make at home as long as you can get your hands on some ground pork. If you are in the USA, it's not terribly hard to find as long as you're in NY LA or SF. If not you might be screwed.

Well, that's it for now. There will be an actual post next week. In the mean time have a drink or something. seriously, check out my other blog... it's really lonely.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Ching Chang Chong: Racism and Not-Racism in Entertainment Media

Subjective Reality continued: Today's vocab word is Butt-Hurt.

I just don't have the words for how stupid this case involving Simon Ledger and the song "Kung Fu Fighting" is. It's already over and done with, but it's still an unbelievable incident to say the least, it shows how an out of control obsession to meet an impossible standard can be a serious threat to artistic creativity, and entertainment.

I've picked on Australia previously for doing this kind of thing, but now it seems that its mommy is outdoing it and raising the bar on the stupid-standard to an inconceivable level. Yes those limey bastards have taken political correctness to a retarded extreme the likes of which make Pat Condell seem like a reasonable individual. Yeah, I know the story is from The Sun. but if you must, here have the same story from Daily Mail or BBC.


Did I offend you by using the word "retarded"? Well fuck ya then. In the above context the word means something completely removed from mental illness or developmental disability, and it's only your ego which makes you think that somehow it has something to do with you. It doesn't. Your feelings or opinion don't matter in the grand scheme of things, they won't change the meaning of the above context, and in 8 minutes you'll be thinking about something else let alone 2 days from now. This is entertainment.
Oh, Internet...

This IS entertainment. One of the pillars of entertainment is to have no sacred cows, and that goes back to court jesters and even further. Thankfully, if you're American, your right to be creative is protected (hell, your right to be a straight up racist a-hole is protected), while the rights of mental midgets not to have their feelings hurt are not written into insane laws. It would seem that it's only by the consent of the most insignificant plebeian minds and their fragile emotionality, can any media entertainment exist in the UK without being labeled a criminal enterprise.

Well, England being the country that brought us Apartheid in South Africa, the mess in Northern Ireland, India vs Pakistan, driving on the left side of the road, and this non-stop news cycle of 'who gives a fuck' royal wedding carnival of lucky moneyed trailer trash (yes I did just call the British monarchy lucky moneyed trailer trash, and what are you gonna do about it? nothing, that's what.) what can you really expect? It's such a misguided backlash from an unchecked sense of having to make amends from the past, and will most likely lead to the homogenized hell-future of Demolition Man before anyone realizes that the government has taken all the fun out of life. Que the revolution and blah blah blah. Seriously, is this retardulatastic incident really any different from the "swear meter" that fines you every time you drop the f-bomb in public in that movie? Why would a machine do that if nothing else than to "protect" the "feelings" of others from your 1st amendment exercises, no? It puts the "feelings" of others in front of your ability/right (depending on where you live) to say whatever you want.

So the potential problem is huge in terms of not only media, but quality of life in general. I might "feel" the world is flat and screw up your kid's education by demanding the school "respect my belief." Or I might "feel" that sushi is such unspeakable animal cruelty that I might throw a fit if I have to be subjected having someone eat it within my field of vision. Or I might "feel" like Hetalia is offensive to Italians (or anyone else for that matter) and demand that WH Smith not only stop selling it immediately, but also that the person who ordered it and put it on the shelf in the first place be arrested, and they hand over a list of every customer who bought it so they can send Guy Montag to your front door.

"Spaghetti" mother fucker, do you speak it?

Like in Miracle on 34th St, on one hand you can count the people who believe that Chris Kringle was Santa Claus and on the other you can count the people who believe the opposite (lol insert Jewish-joke here). This does NOT mean one group is oppressing the other, this means that such beliefs are totally fucking meaningless unless objective realities can be found to add legitimacy to one side or the other. Without objective facts you have opinions, with objective facts you have conclusions (not opinions). You can "feel" that this song is somehow racist all you want to, but it's not, so shut up. No, your feelings aren't important enough to change the fact that it's not racist. Yes it does kind of feel bad to realize that in the grand scheme of things you and your opinions are pretty much worthless. I said before, deal with it.

The person making the media is the ultimate authority on its meaning.

And before anyone says something about it wasn't the song itself but the fact that the guy somehow played it at the other guy and that's what's illegal in this situation, just shut the hell up. And don't give me any of that "Isle of Wight isn't England" crap either, because that's bullshit. If you actually think that such minor perspectives are somehow significant, just head on over to Memory Alpha, because there's an argument going on over there about Captain Kirk vs Captain Picard that requires your level of intellect.

So now is this and every other song that uses the "oriental riff" going to be banned from karaoke joints in WestCliffordShropsherChippingtonShireOntheThems or whatever the fuck England calls it's cities that aren't London? Are we gonna have a good old fashioned book burning where we throw The Vapors "Turning Japanese" sheet music and CDs on the funeral pyre of creative freedom? Are we going to criminalize the possession of Big Trouble in Little China on DVD in region 2 PAL? Is England gonna ban Mikado, HMS Pinafore, and Madam Butterfly while they're at it? Three Little Maids From School are we, singing this now is a fel-o-ny, nicked on the ground as you can see, three little maids in jail.

By that reasoning, you're now a on the UK no-fly list for just watching this.

I feel a kind of personal connection to this because for over a whole decade, I marketed Kung Fu Fighting on home video. No not the song, I mean actual movies where there was Kung Fu Fighting in them and all that good stuff. Michelle Yao, Gordon Liu, Wong Fei Hung, Polly Kuan, Wong Kar Wai, Sammo Hung, John Liu, the entire fucking cast of Shaw Bros, and 10 times more than that, I got their movies into stores like Best Buy and, then I had to make consumers want to buy them. I used shit like this to do it:

You think it's racist? Well, it's not, so fuck off. Involving police over a cover of a disco song from the 1970's can be shown to be incredibly stupid when looking at the alternative possibilities of doing the same thing: Would the police have stormed in and shut the whole place down if the song was being played over a sound system rather than by a live band? What if it was somebody's ring-tone on their cellphone and it went off? Or if this Family Guy clip was on a TV above the bar... or this one... or this one... or, well you get the idea.

Racism makes for great comedy, you know why? Because it's fucking funny, and it's fucking funny because it's fucking stupid. If racism in any media can even be criminal, and then be defined by literally anyone who feels butt-hurt over something, then Chris Rock & Eddy Murphy will be rotting in jail long after Charles Manson gets out.

I seriously don't want to ever go to England ever again because of this shit. It makes me want to find a Union Jack and piss on it.  OK not that, I am just saying that to get a rise out of people (this is the internet), but I do abhor that kind of decision making.  Maybe this whole thing is troll-bait like the Scopes Monkey Trial, but looking back, even the Monkey Trial was still a spectacle which puts the spotlight on how dumb certain people can be. The same is true here. The fact that "Kung Fu Fighting" gets someone arrested is so mind bogglingly 'does-not-compute', that I don't think I can actually understand what it means to live over there. Did they arrest the other musicians? They were accessories after all? They facilitated this "criminal" act, did they not? got a warrant out for Carl Douglas? He wrote the thing, so he must be as bad as Pol Pot or something.

Or maybe this guy?
Bonus points if you can name this movie & actor.

It's not even a small stretch to claim the same "me Chinese me play joke, me go pee pee your coke" levels racist offense is all over the pages and and animations of Hetalia, Ranma 1/2, or just about any manga or anime if you deliberately go looking for it. Like I said before, the reason otakus should be worried about this, is that whoever made this complaint (may they die from cancer up their asshole) could easily cry foul over bruised sensibilities if you happen to be reading a copy of something they find "offensive" because... reasons, while sitting on the bus next to him and force your arrest. The force the bookstores to stop selling any title that they were "offended" by. If you live in the UK or any of it's side projects, you had better worry about what you do/read/sing/fart in public, because if someone decides they don't like it or they just don't like you, then you're in for a world of pain.

Put down the anime and back away slowly! It offended someone!

I'm listening to the song right now. England had better take some time away from kissing the Queen's ass and make sure iTunes doesn't sell the thing to the commoners, otherwise the whole country will just go straight to hell! Pretty prince Willie and Kate whats-her-face are gonna break up, they'll have to start driving on the right side of the road, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!

Common sense has not triumphed in this situation even though this matter has been more or less put to bed, as the keystone-cop police mentioned that they would be happily prepared to do this crap again if it happened. The "accuser" has not been rightfully thrown in jail and punched in the face for wasting police time, and taxpayer money. I seriously want to know who the fucktard is who called the cops in, so that I can laugh when I hear that he committed suicide because there's video of him being anally penetrated by a Tibetan Yak all Mr. Hands style (it's ok, it's a wikipedia link). This kind of thing happening should have been a warning sign that the law is far too vague to be functional. I have lost faith in England's ability to control itself and it should be left in the corner to soil it's pants every day wondering what year it is. The door would be further open to even more ridiculous legal shenanigans based on the subjective reality of any moron's "hurt feelings" and the simply inexplicable notion that those feelings are worth a speck in the grand scheme of things. The logical progression of this kind of thing is simply terrifying:

Oi guv'ner I'm callin' the Fuzz what with me English-ness an' all!
You bungslab that claptrap-tat right now or I'll kippleswig you in the wobbiecobbles!
(or however the fuck they talk over there).

And the moral of the story: