Is that based on real science?

If we go back hundred years and then some in time, we would enter a world we’d recognize but would hardly be able to properly function in. Your own nation would have drastically different culture, ideologies and ways of doing things, and other cultures would be that much more alien as the global cross-pollination would still be curbed by the lack of fast connections. Though we can intellectually say that things were like this or that people thought like that based on books and documentation from that era, otherwise we can barely relate to them. We can’t interact with the past. The same applies to the future as well, but even more so. The present is steel in a forge, constantly being heated to its proper temperature. Human actions are the hammer blows that shape the metal into its proper form, but only after quenching and polishing, we can see what are the results. We might have a plan or intentions, but sometimes those don’t serve us. Other times we’re played like a fiddle by some unseen hand directing us towards something peculiar, like how the recent military coup in Burma, also called Myanmar, took place. Some people see and know what’s going to happen, while the rest have to wait and see until it’s presented to us. By that time, the showcase is over. Future generations will look back to this era the same way we see the past through coloured lenses and read the words of the victor.

If we extend the time span, we’re are being removed from pretty much everything we know. The man of now, be it in the 1800s or present, always considers themselves to be at the cutting edge of science and progress, that this is the best spot. Fifty years from now there will be people thinking the same way and wondering how backwards we were at the change of the millennium. Science probably has taken steps we barely have an inkling about currently, with social and cultural structures have seen a change. Future historians can make educated guesses where all this is going, but that’s all it is. Ask a future historian five years ago if the world would experience a massive scare in form of a global pandemic, and none of them has anything like that. Some of them probably would have guessed that an incoming depression would hit, but that was supposed to be around 2018. They weren’t quite right on the time, or for what reasons.

The concepts we have in our everyday life are magic. We can say we understand how, for example, Wi-Fi works with the signals and how they’re coded and encoded, but only in terms of This things exists. Very few truly understand what’s happening when wireless communication happens, or why. We can easily say that Wireless Fidelity is radio signals, and then expand that radio waves are a form of electromagnetic waves. This means it’s a wave with both electronic and magnetic component to it, meaning the signals are like light rays, except their wavelength is different. This is just going into what a radio signal is, and not even touching how information relies on through it. As a side note, it would be possible to “see” Wi-Fi waves if an organ or a device would have evolved or designed to see at that wavelength.

The Atomic Era and after saw a huge slew of science fiction making wild assumptions about the year 2000, which very few have come to pass. I’m still waiting for my atomic reactor powered flying cars. We have robots doing our jobs, but not in the manner of humaniform robots or androids, but rather as dedicated machines with specific types of arms and hands. General artificial intelligence was assumed to have been assembled already, but turns out making a sentient computer is harder than it seems like. Then again, in strict terms, the AI doesn’t even need to be sentient. It just has to appear to be so. However, we can’t fault science fiction writers for using the science they had in their present. You can’t use or invent what you don’t know is possible or could be done. Star Trek‘s communicators were a natural evolution of radio and wired phones. Nowadays, you can call anyone anywhere on the Earth, and probably on the orbit too, with your phone in your pocket. While teleportation has been deemed impossible, tests have shown otherwise. It’s just a matter of the scale of things and whether or not it would be feasible in the future, but progress has ways to make us surprised. After all, it was thought the world could only have three computers due to their massive size, but now that same phone you can call Frank is millions of times more capable in every aspect than those room-sized computers. Even the best guess based on the information they had then wasn’t exactly on the mark.

It helps if you’re a scientist of sorts when writing science fiction. You’d be in a better position to use that knowledge of how things work to take a few steps forwards. After all, once the reader picks up your book, you are in a silent agreement that this is fiction, and certain parts will be in the realm of impossibility. Even then, too many times the ideas people have supposed to be too fantastical have turned out to be possible. Then, of course, there’s the reverse or the Jurassic Park Effect. Michael Crichton did extensive research for the book, and for a short period in the 1980s, it was based on solid science and knowledge. Even the name of the Velociraptor was largely accurate for a whole year or two, before the species’ status, name and size were updated with further research. We also now know that dinosaurs had feathers of sorts, and have been able to determine some pigments from fossil remains. A few years back, a Texan scientist surmised that T-Rex probably didn’t even roar, but used similar closed-mouth communication we see in alligators and birds. So rather than a lion roar, it most likely had something akin to a deep, ground-shaking subsonic rumble. The whole issue of extracting DNA from amber sadly was also bunked when DNA’s half-life was confirmed, meaning even in the best condition a dinosaur’s DNA would have broken up in 6,8 million years. We’re a few millions of years too late to the party. Science fact of yesterday is science fiction of today.

Nevertheless, we can only base our ideas and guesses what is out there. Very few of us is making any progress on the scientific front, and even those who keep tabs on the latest news and research papers probably can’t even guess what’s the next technological revolution. Science fiction writers overall can’t really use what isn’t there. I keep using the Lensman series and some of the earlier Asimov’s works as examples where there are no computers. The way computers were in the 1950s and earlier don’t even begin to count in ways modern people understand what a computer is. Nevertheless, writers like Asimov and Clarke understood science to make use of it in an entertaining manner as well as discuss themes and concepts through their work. Larry Niven’s Ringworld novels are an example of an author going back to the work and making a sequel just to discuss how such a superstructure as Niven’s Ring could be possible. It points out how it can be made possible, but as it usually is with SF, not whether or not it is possible with our current understanding of materials and certain physics.

I’m sure you’re tired of me kicking this dead horse. However, the more I hear some unnamed contemporary SF writers aiming to write what follows “real science” while arguing that you shouldn’t elaborate, or even discuss, what isn’t possible seems cheating. Certainly, Star Trek Voyager made technobabble a sin in the eyes of hardcore SF fans. However, this is where that whole aforementioned point of having some kind of degree of science, or a deeper understanding of how things work steps in. Bad technobabble throws words in that sound scientific without any meaning. Good technobabble on the other hand does manage to make use of current concepts and take it a step further by asking the question What if… Then again, the highly technical speech itself sounds like technobabble, so the layman and general audience mostly put it as the tone of the work. It’s background noise, something that’s akin to the background music that’s making the beats. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the science or the depiction of vessels or beams is realistic and accurate as long as it serves the story. There’s no drama if we can’t see the lasers shot, or if a crew member is thrown back when using a phaser. While some viewers will complain that Star Trek and similar works are unrealistic how they depict their science and mechanics, the layman often retorts that how that’s a given; it’s television, none of it is real.

It is disingenuous to call any work of SF, like Star Trek, a work of fantasy based on its elements not being possible, at least in terms of the current understanding of how things work. The whole What If… plays an important role in one of Asimov’s best works, Gold. Asimov was dared to write a story with plutonium-186 isotope as the theme, which doesn’t and can’t exist. Yet Asimov took the base and built a story set in another universe with a different set of laws of physics that allowed such thing to exist. Discussing such topics and themes is a hallmark of science fiction as a genre.

All this wondering makes me want a hard science fact story that uses 1600s science as its basis.

There are no black bars

There is a misunderstanding with screen aspect ratios that states that using an image of different aspect ratio from your screen will leave black bars. This is of course completely incorrect but is so widely used that nobody questions it. Everybody just assumed people know what’s been said, which turns into the whole It’s common knowledge thing. This’ll be the last aspect ratio rant for the blog.

The above image shows a white 4:3 image in a wide-screen area format. Those aren’t black bars; that is the area where there is no image information. Open some random image in your computer that isn’t taken in your screen’s aspect ratio. You wouldn’t expect it to fill the screen, as it’s clearly not meant for that size. Yet some of you willingly crop or stretch video footage to fill that area. I’m sure your image viewer has some options to stretch stuff. If not, put it as your desktop wallpaper and choose that stretching option. Suddenly, it looks much less appealing.

This applies to any picture that is out there, video or not. For whatever reason, people fear the void of having nothing on their screen as if its wasted, as if they weren’t getting their money’s worth. This is absurd, though possibly understandable. Nevertheless, the image size and dimensions you view are chosen specifically for the reasons that portray the image the best or were industry standards. If you put something like Jurassic Park on, you should notice that it has more vertical height than your standard modern TV-show, or most movies in widescreen format, because Spielberg chose that aspect ratio because it allowed to show more of the dinosaurs’ height. Compared to Jurassic World movies, which lack this extra height, you get much wider shot and lose that effect of massive size. You have too much room on the sides.

Whatever made filling this empty space with bloomed version of the video at this empty space is a neat response to fill that void, but that’s again needless and useless. I’d like to say Surely people understand that there are videos of different aspect ratios that don’t fill your screen? but that would be stepping in the whole trap of assuming it was common knowledge. It probably is, people just don’t think it though. Another thing people are doing is adding black areas to the top and bottom of the screen to simulate the film experience. This is just from ignorance as people who keep doing this don’t understand that films filmed in 21:9 aspect ratio has more width than height, which is why you have no information to fill all of your modern 16:9 aspect ratio screen.

Seems like Counter Strike players are somewhat split between widescreen and fullscreen formats. Some people talk about how glorious it is to have the game in full, widescreen format while some argue that having 4:3 “black bars” is better because of the focus it offers. Other games seem to have their own aspect ratio they run in, as Youtube’s also full of guides on how to stretch Valorant‘s footage, which again destroys the footage itself. Maybe it’s the new generation problem that older technology has with video footage. As I mentioned in my previous aspect ratio rant, companies used to cut and pan footage to fit 4:3 aspect ratio televisions, yet we have the same problem nowadays in slight reverse. People are stretching the image for 16:9 format and it looks even worse. I’d rather live with Pan and Scan over stretched image just because everything would still maintain their proper proportions.

With Counter Strike people are mislabelling the whole stretching thing. While looking for reasons why people stretch their picture, many consider changing the aspect ratio itself as stretching. The thing with some games is that they can function just fine under different aspect ratios without the need for mangling the image. Look a the following.

 

This image hasn’t been stretched or shrunk. This is two different aspect ratio images superimposed on top of each other, with the red coloured image being in 4:3. No assets are being stretched, the only thing that changes slightly is the field of view. However, the terminology often used between these two, removing black bars, stretching etc are just outright bonkers. The discussion should be about aspect ratio in cases like this and nothing else. It feels, and is stupid to point out that it’s no stretching if there is no stretching. If you’re interested why some Counter Strike players discuss the benefits of having 4:3 aspect ratio in the game, here’s a link to the Medium article where the pic was nabbed from.

Let’s take a step back a bit from that and take a very simple and rather small, random image from my folders and see how it scales.

This’ll do fine

It’s a very normal picture with a random aspect ratio and size. When you put in full screen, as in it would full whatever it can on the screen without stretching, it’d look like this.

As a lot of old digital footage is in crappy resolution with terrible compression, expanding the image well beyond its intended size will result in edges showcasing their low resolution and artifacting. It’ll be even worse if you want it to fill the screen so that it’s filled with the image’s information, even if doesn’t have anything to offer in that regard.

The stretching is visible, with the face becoming even pudgier and the hat suddenly gaining few kilos more. Now, what if someone were to do this in ultra-widescreen? You may think this sounds stupid, but it happens all the time. People love to stretch things for whatever reason.

If you’re ok with the third image, then you should have no problems with the fourth one either. The extreme might be wider, but the effect is still the same. You have now filled your screen with information and thus ended up distorting the image. To hammer this useless point in even further, I’ve superimposed the second and third images together, putting the proper aspect ratio’d picture to the left so the lines have the same starting point.

This hurts my eyes. Thanks astigmatism

Stretching is something that should not be tolerated and the above shows why. When put on top of each other like this, you can clearly see how much stretching displaces and distorts the depicted information.

I did mention I was looking around why people stretch their footage even when knowing it’ll make the picture look bad. The main reason seems to be the good ol’ feeling cheated if they don’t get everything filled from edge to edge in their screens. Televisions and monitors cost a pretty penny and not having that whole area used all the time seem to make people feel like they were cheated, that they could’ve gone with a smaller screen if they have to leave some areas unused due to the footage being in a different resolution or aspect ratio. It’s not rare for people to say It looks fine when justifying why they stretch or crop their picture, which can’t be helped. Just as often you hear the same people saying something about the image not exactly looking like it should. Sports especially tend to look weird in a wrong aspect ratio, because all the players and equipment are stretched sideways.

The second reason is buying into something they don’t have knowledge of. Often a screen is bought, set up, never calibrated or properly tested. If a station is sending the image in a different aspect ratio and the screen is set to automatically stretch, the end result will be a mangled image. Effectively, ignorance.

The third reason is by choice, whatever it might be. While there are intended ways to view something in its proper aspect ratio, we have to accept that people have the freedom to watch whatever they want in whatever size and shape they wish. I assume we’ll have to revisit everything how we approach image sizes and aspect ratios in the future as the image viewing technology takes its next major paradigm shift, or if another aspect ratio other than this widescreen format is implemented as a standard. Whoever writes about these things then will have one helluva time trying to explain to people how few hundred years ago the image was in two dimensions and didn’t contain holographic third dimension to fit their tru-3DVR glasses.

Why are there no black bars though? Because that’s just areas that are off, just like how your screen isn’t “black” when you switch it off. Thes sayings just kept going and had to be dumbed down, which lead misconceptions and further problems down the line. I guess this would count as an example of how we should punch up and educate people rather than punch everything else down. Lift people, so to say, rather than take things down across to the board.

 

 

 

 

Japan is a brand; Outside regulation would diminish the value of products of Japanese culture

One of Japan’s most important export product is its culture. For numerous years, their ministry has taken serious notice of their cultural goods making large-scale sales abroad. Cartoons, comics, novels, electronic games and even pornography has seen a constant rise in popularity since the Second World War. Even before that, there were people who were fascinated by this culture that is that much different than the Western hemisphere can offer.

Mitsurugi and his replacement for regions with censorship regarding Japanese imagery

However, this is a rather new event. Japanese culture was not exported by the government itself, but rather by foreigners who entered the country and brought it with them as they returned to their home counties. Whether or not it was because of the infamy of the Japanese actions during the war, or because the culture in itself was not seen as a profitable good to be imported. To this day, import of Japanese culture is seen as a taboo in some parts of the Asian world. For example, South Korea discourages and often outright censors depiction of Japanese culture in their media, which has lead companies to provide modified versions of their games for Korean markets. For example, the samurai Mitsurugi was replaced with Arthur, a European character that just happens to don Japanese armour and sword. Other fields of censorship South Korea frequently employs is regarding Shinto symbols, which get scrubbed from both television programmes and comics. Thailand has a long history with self-censorship, which has extended in policies against media displaying .e.g. Buddhist imagery. Sri Lanka also issues with certain religious concepts being showcased on air.

South Korea nevertheless has imported numerous Japanese products via copyright infringement and piracy among the official releases and has presented numerous Japanese-original products as their own. One of the more famous examples of this might be the design of Robot Taekwon V, which is a modified Mazinger-type design. The later designs in the series incorporate elements from Mobile Suit Gundam and especially from Combat Mecha Xabungle. Numerous bargain bin cartoons, like Space Thunderkids, exhibit numerous types of plagiarism Koreans practised at the time, ranging from music to character designs.

Original Taekwon V and Great Mazinger. Taekwon’s creator, Kim Cheong-gi, has been very open of his plagiarism as he wanted to create Korean-original robot in wake of Mazinger’s popularity

Koreans taking after a Japanese product should not be a surprise though. Japan improved its relation with their fellow Asian countries during the 1970s and 1980s, which in turn allowed their industry to grow even more by exporting their products. It was during this period when Japanese technology gained its fame, with cars making their way across the world and names like Sony were associated with high-quality products par none. A little company called Nintendo also effectively saved the American video game industry while struggling to compete against Sega in European markets.

An iconic pairing on both sides of the sea

Even earlier than that, the world had already begun to see the sort of creativity Japanese media was enjoying. It is thanks to Gigantor and Jonny Sokko and His Flying Robot (Tetsujin #28 and Giant Robot, respectively) that America associated Japan with giant robots, which was only enforced by the upcoming slow but sure burn of animation. Speedracer and other Japanimation paved the way of current trends for Western acceptance of anime. While current mainstream might discourage anyone from visiting these localized products, where characters, stories and sometimes even music were replaced via Americanization, they nevertheless helped these shows to gain a larger audience. They may not have been accurate, or even faithful to the original Japanese product, but that was not how you made business at the time. There was no market for original-language products in the same manner, in many ways, there still are not as many countries across the world still heavily localize and dub for the local market’s consumption.

Whether or not something is localized, unless completely redone from the ground up, you cannot divorce localized material from its original counterpart. The language may change, the story might change or maybe even the whole point of the product might change, yet the core idea will still stay and shine through. All the discussed examples, whether localized or plagiarized, are inherently Japanese on idea level and in concept.

All these shows were imported by individual entities and corporations, so they were mostly to make money. Some products, like the original Godzilla, did see a subtitles release before its localized version, which is an example of a foreign product made to fit the home market in a proper way. Without that, we would not have Godzilla in the global pop-culture landscape. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when Japan’s Takeshita government took the first true initiative to market Japanese culture abroad via exporting Japanese television programmes to other Asian countries. The Japan Media Communication Center, JAMCO for short, was established in 1991 by joint efforts of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Post and Telecommunication. This led to the translation of Japanese television programmes into English as well as developing shows specifically for export markets. Most of these shows were aired in other Asian countries, but many of them also found their way into the Western world. It’s easy to see a show like Iron Chef being promoted for foreign markets thanks to its local popularity, and it could be easily trimmed down from its hour-long episodes into shorter episodes.

Chairman Kaga and his Iron Chefs

All these efforts were furthered in 2001, when Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s (METI) Media and Contents Industry Division established a think-tank examine what challenges and prospects there were in promoting Japanese culture, especially its media contents, to overseas market. In fact, even before that METI had recognized the growing trend of Japanese culture-products to have a rising trend in export, and estimated that multimedia industries, that of electronic entertainment, music, films, software, broadcasting and such would generate over 55 trillion yen, a boost that post-Bubblegum Bubble Japan could’ve used. It would be an understatement that the Japanese government was becoming well aware of the potential of their cultural export.

The combination of Japanese products’ quality and the further steps of having Japanese media presented as Japanese has created its own brand image. Made in Japan is still seen as a certain brand of quality, but nowadays just Japan delivers a certain kind of image of the cultural landscape and the type of products it offers. The constant export of Japanese media goods has furthered the expansion of their culture, with electronic entertainment and multimedia products being in the lead. This might be due to Japan having a much longer history in multimedia productions, something that did not hit the Western world until the 1980s.

Outside electronic games, Japanese comics and cartoons have experienced almost a thirty years rise in popularity in the Western markets, with the late 1990s early 2000s experiencing a breakthrough boom when a new generation found anime. The blooming Internet culture at the exchange of the millennium continued the older VHS fan subtitle culture in digital form, and freely shared shows with added subtitles spread Japanese popular culture even wider. In many ways, the current state of affairs, where almost every new animated programme gains official subtitled release of some sort, is a direct result of this fansub culture and the piracy it promoted. It was, in effect, years of the best kind of promotion and advertisement, which lead these people taking steps to be involved in the industry and make sure that the market would get what it yearned.

I agree, Hank did whine too much. There’s a small story behind all this

Without a doubt, METI’s think-tank is partially responsible for the rise of Japanese media in the Western hemisphere during the previous two decades. When you combine both the existing yet largely untapped market’s yearn with government-driven agenda to promote these products, it is easier to understand how Japanese media products became for more common that what they already were. Japanese cartoons and comics went from an underground culture to mainstream, with anime and manga became terms much more recognized. They became a brand of their own, which effectively state A product of Japan.

Cannon’s American Ninja was just one of the many movies tapping the ninja craze

While this post is focusing on media, it should be noted that Japanese cultural exports also include martial arts. The martial arts and ninja boom of the 1970s and 80s were largely thanks to Japanese influences and Hong Kong cinema. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the properties that is, in effect, a result of Japanese cultural exports and their prevalence in the United States (even though that’s still media). It should be emphasized, that almost every city has at least one form of martial arts school that ties itself to Japan. Be it karate, judo or other forms of budo, the Japanese martial arts have a high status and is one of the more important cultural exports Japan has ever had, but they themselves don’t make much revenue. Nevertheless, Judo was considered significant martial art to the point of being accepted as an Olympic sport at the 1964 games.

Furthermore, Japanese innovation such as Just-in-Time manufacturing Toyota pioneered alongside lean manufacturing have left a worldwide impact. Companies like Motorola and John Deere have employed these in their manufacturing decisions. I would amiss if I would not mention the 5S method, which lays out how to organize workspace for efficiency, which also affects standardization.

If I am to believe the Japanese people that I have conversed with throughout the years, as well as the occasional cultural report I have read, the Japanese enjoy how foreigners take interest in their culture and its products. It is something they take pride in. Works like Super Dimensional Fortress Macross effectively celebrate the culture by weaponising it against the alien species Zentraedi, as they lack their own. To be specific, Macross weaponises the early 1980’s idol culture and makes songs an effective counterattack to disharmonize enemy actions and show that war is not the only option in life. Macross has continued to use songs, idols and robots as a means to celebrate each decade in its own ways, which shows how long-lasting the property is and how much faith Japan has in its culture.

Incidentally, Macross II would aim to undermine the superiority of the idol culture, as its staff considered the idol culture outdated and that it’d become obsolete by the end of the decade. They bet on the wrong racehorse

If you look further into their media products, you will see a pattern forming, where their own country and its people are in focus almost exclusively. Even in works that take place outside Japanese borders (or in fictional worlds) they have heavily implemented their own cultural landscape. Final Fantasy VII may be one of the most globally celebrated roleplaying games, but everything from its design language, storytelling, character designs, music and play is stereotypically Japanese. You have thin heroes with comically large weapons, a mix of science fiction and fantasy in a manner where there is no distinction between the two, cheap drama that is executed in a most exquisite manner and numerous other elements that can be described as Japanisms.

Yasuda Kosuke’s Sakurako Himegasaki is still pitiably cute today (姫ヶ崎櫻子は今日も不憫可愛い) is an example of Japanism about childhood friend taken to the meta-level, as the comic plays tropes straight all the while turning the expected end-results, e.g. the main lead is in love in another character and the friend loses, on their head in a comedic fashion

Japanisms are what could be described as storytelling stereotypes or tropes that exist and are specifically used in Japanese media. It also includes cultural concepts and behaviour that is very much their own thing. To use an example from modern stories, in romance stories the childhood friend of the main character often is in a losing position, thus creating a unique character trope. Japanisms can be silly in their own right, and can often detract the story they are in, they are largely embraced as expected, almost essential, parts of certain genres. These Japanisms also constantly evolve when it comes to the media, with the whole other-world genre taking more and more cues after Japanese roleplaying games instead of general fantasy to the point of actual play mechanics and RPG status screens becoming one of the tropes. The whole genre has become so common, that even foreign publishers have adopted the Japanese name for its, isekai, to further illustrate the contents to customers in-the-know.

These Japanisms are one of the reasons why their cultural exports are of interest and make sales. Be it transforming robot toys or whatnot, certain concepts simply take form in a different culture in a completely different manner. Just as you find stereotypically American ideas in their caped hero comics or novels, French stereotypes in their cartoons and British mangy grossness in their media, Japan has the things you can only find in their products and that interests people. The Britons were the only people who could have come up with 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd due to their culture much like how Superman was the ultimate realization of an immigrant to the Americas in the early 20th century.

La parisienne japonaise by Belgian painter Alfred Stevens is an example of French Japonisme, the effect of Japanese aesthetics, design and art influencing western Europe in the 19th century after Japan was forced to reopen their trade in 1858

With the global information exchange constantly growing and ideas exchanging hands, consumers have become more and more aware of exclusive goods. Importing cultural goods, like pots, books and such, has always been a thing, yet towards the new millennium, this has become more and more a mundane thing. While we might have bought a car that was made locally on in the neighbouring country, we have found ourselves in a word where we can get anything from anywhere, if we just want to go through the trouble. Appreciating cultural differences has become more common at the same time, though the United States has stereotypically been the top dog of having others appreciate their cultural differences rather than the other way around. The current global trend of having one, overwhelming global culture to overrun all others is a direct legacy of American export of culture.

As the Japanese government has a history of investing themselves in the exportation of their cultural goods, they have also been concerned about its nature. In June of 2020, Ken Akamatsu of Love Hina fame explained in his Twitter account that he was invited to the House of Councilors questioning sessions, where the government asked What measures are needed for Japanese manga to survive in the world? Akamatsu’s reply was that freedom of expression must come first, as he sees this as Japan’s strength over overseas competition. His fear is to see foreign platforms, which already have larger global influence and market shares, dictating rules and regulations on Japanese originated comics. According to him, the members of the parliament agreed with his sentimentality.

The above in Akamatsu’s own Tweet stating the above and a link

His view is opposed by D.J. Kirkland from Viz Media, who has been vocal for changing and producing manga for Western markets. According to Kirkland, there is going to be a conversation between stakeholders in Japan and Western publishers when it comes to creating content that appeals more to the Western audience. His view that anime is a business is a correct one, yet his intentions largely leave the original creators and their intents out of the equation. Kirkland also ignores that anime and manga have been specifically made for the Japanese market alone and its success as an export product leans heavily on this. Kirkland’s word at its face value, he also considers that US and Western market to be one and the same when this isn’t the case. France, for example, doesn’t exactly rely on English language releases of Japanese works nearly to the same extent as some other countries. English language releases from the US certainly make themselves around the world and do skew the numbers, but the point still stands.

Akamatsu’s worry regarding governmental or industrial over-regulation is relevant. He was the key person in stopping Japanese corporations taking actions against the Japanese homemade comic scene, the doujinshi scene, which sees people making their own created comics they do not own and publishing them at events. This is infringing copyright, something all the companies would have all the power to stop, but due to the nature of doujinshi being a major part of the Japanese popular culture, they are allowed to continue with this half-decade long tradition without much trouble. In fact, majority of the Japanese comic creators have some roots in the doujinshi scene, such as ever-popular CLAMP, and it is not uncommon to find a popular creator having drawn adult material before moving to mainstream comics.

Sony has also showcased how its internal censorship has affected the PlayStation as a platform, as a brand and its library. With numerous games being rejected from the platform, forcing the removal of content and content having to change to meet their Californian HQ’s standards, we have already seen a shift in how Japanese creators’ content has been dictated by an outside force. As Sony has concentrated to cater to Western, or rather, American taste, they’ve lost sales and position in Japan to Nintendo. Furthermore, Switch sales have increased as their more lax policies still allow creators and developers to continue in their usual fashion. This has increased overseas importation of Switch games, as numerous titles get Asian-English releases nowadays. I’ve covered Sony’s censorship before in this blog. You can find the posts on the topic here, here and here. I probably missed one or two.

Original comic design on the left, tweaked design on the right

Some Japanese corporations like Square-Enix have taken precautions to quell possible conflicts by changing pre-existing designs. Final Fantasy VII Remake Tifa’s design got criticized for unnecessary changes, while others still criticized the design for unrealistic body proportions. Character Maam from a 1991 Dragon Quest comic, Dai’s Great Adventure, also saw a redesign from her original Martial Artist class design when revealing mobile iteration of Dai’s Great Adventure.

Censorship on Japanese products isn’t anything new in itself. Ever since Japanese comics and cartoons have arrived to the Western front, be it the US, South America, or parts of Europe, they have seen some degree of censorship. Sometimes its removal of religious imagery as in older Nintendo games, sometimes its removal of blood from comics and cartoons, covering up bare skin or making sure characters say they saw a parachute after blowing up an enemy robot. Viz themselves have a long history in censoring comics they localise, removing whatever they find objectionable at a given time, sometimes making panels look weird even out of their proper context.

Viz’s run for Pokémon Adventures may be infamous for all the female figures they redrew, but scenes like this also got toned down and ended up looking silly

The main difference is that all these have been external changes. Whatever Viz Media has done to censor the versions they publish is their and their customers’ business. The original creator was not limited by anything else but what he had discussed with his editor and staff. What Kirkland, and some of the Japanese government may be proposing, is to control the output of the creators at the source, practising self-censorship and limiting what they can and cannot to create. It would be imposing outsiders’ values and views in order to make Japanese cultural products more palatable for them.

What Sony is imposing on their worldwide developers, and what Ken Akamatsu is fearing, is cultural colonialism.

Homogenizing Japanese products according to outside rules would mean losing all the edge they have held over the competition. Cultural colonialism ultimately destroys the uniqueness of culture and replaces it whatever it currently acceptable by the people who enforced it in the first place. The American censorship is flippant at best, and as they show themselves as the face of the Western world, they would be in the lead of spreading their view of correct and proper culture. The US might not act as the world police as much as it used to in terms of military power, but that’s because war has changed. Now, the war is about information, controlling it and impacting how people behave. By trying to make everyone think and act the same, it becomes easier to exert power over people, even if they’re in a whole different country. Controlling what can be produced, or in what tone, is one step in controlling the way the culture begins to think despite what reality is.

The Japanese culture is a result of their long isolation until they were forced to open trade connections. While many Western nations have their identity moulded through constant interaction with neighbouring countries, Japan has always had the luxury in many ways unique from most of the world. This does bring its own baggage, which has resulted in less than favourable view of Japan around Asia. Outside a few tribe cultures that have had no contact with the rest of the world, the Japanese culture is in many ways closest to an alien culture a Westerner can easily access. Throughout the years this has caused certain fetishization of the culture, which has created the occasional Exotic Orient boom, in which various items and people have been exhibited to the public at large like some circus freaks. Racism has played some part in this, as numerous times these booms haven’t really cared whether or not depictions have been correct, and Asians were seen largely interchangeable with each other. This lead to things like kung fu being a Japanese martial art or Korean language cited as Chinese. These have become less common place nowadays, but the idea of Exotic Orient still raises its head sometimes, but in a more positive light nowadays thanks to the efforts of Asian nations themselves making themselves known brands.

The Japanese government’s worry over Japanese comics losing place in the overseas market is baseless. Currently, Shonen Jump comics are outselling Marvel and DC in the US. Various European countries have a steady flow of Japanese titles on their publishing lists. France especially has an impressive library of Japanese comics, perhaps the most in the European sphere that does not speak English as their first language.

Jump comics last circulation numbers. These are figures to salivate after

The government would have to worry if the industry itself or the government would begin to regulate the creative industries for Western markets. For the last thirty years, the Japanese government has done a lot to promote Japanese culture and its products, thus have seen a steady rise in overseas exports in every media field. While some programming has been specifically made to fit overseas market tastes, only a few individuals have taken straight actions to produce overseas market-specific products, like Mazinger. However, more and more mixed media projects concern themselves with the overseas market, resulting in shows that end up on Netflix and built to fit the global streaming service. In itself, there is nothing negative in trying to make products appeal to more than one market. That is just business. However, that approach does not take anime and manga’s primary target consumers to be the Japanese. The true uniqueness of what manga and anime as brands would offer would be removed, and the brand of Japan would be exchangeable with whatever other countries. In other words, under cultural colonialism, that uniqueness would vanish.

First Comics published Go Nagai’s Mazinger specifically for the US market in 1998. A single issue A Treville Book would retain the same moniker, but the book was rebranded as Mazinger U.S.A. Version for the Japanese markets in 1999.

Nevertheless, if the Japanese media would be regulated to suit foreign markets, they would undermine all the efforts the government has seen thus far as it would lead to current market objecting. It would be the opposite what the market has loudly wanted for decades now; uncensored, uninhibited works that are presented in the same forms as they originally were in Japan. Of course, by installing regulations at the source, the customers wants and wishes could be underhandedly circumvented. Outsider regulation at the source could, of course, cut costs when the localizing company publishes it, as there might not find any need to edit the content as it was already made for their liking. While the occasional overseas market-specific piece isn’t all that rare, they are also transparently pandering and lower in quality. Numerous properties have been turned into international brands later in their life, which has given away their visible deterioration of quality and loss of that original spark.

If it was just a few companies pushing for this level of censorship, they could be stepped around by using other companies or forming new ones. However, if these regulations would come from the government, it would damage the Japanese media industries deeply and heavily. A market suicide of this scale would be unpresented. Not only the government think-tanks would have to device new ways to market now-censored products that supposedly should sell better to the Westerners, but the companies that enjoyed large customer bases would have to spend insurmountable amount of money for marketing in order to keep now-damaged market while trying to expand it with these new pieces.

Furthermore, the generation that initiated the new millennium anime boom in the West will be replaced with a new one in the upcoming decade or two, and chances are Japanese media will see less consumption naturally at a global scale. This is due to the new generation always wanting to replace what their parents thing. This is the natural relation between parents and children. The best way Japanese government and the industries can combat this is to have their new generation of creators to take reins after the old masters, something that seems to be natural for the Japanese culture.

The question that lies under all this is What has made Japanese cultural products so appealing? The answer can be shortly be given as They’re Japanese. A product of another culture always offers a whole new alternative that can’t be found anywhere else. Perhaps it is the aesthetics that hit the right spot with some, perhaps it is the story beats. Maybe it’s all those Japanisms that inhabit each and every work to the brim. It still has to be admitted that Japan might need to cater to the overseas market in any case in the future. This is due to their constantly ageing population, which drops the buying power the nation overall has. The inverted age-pyramid keeps growing as the childbirth rates keep falling. This will ultimately require a shift in the Japanese culture when it comes to foreign markets and to foreigners themselves, but what kind of shift it’ll be we’ll have to wait and see. In a connected world as ours, it might be hard to imagine Japan closing itself once again, but that isn’t completely out of the question if physical connections are lost and we become connected only digitally. Nevertheless, at some point, there will be a need for people who would rather make comics and cartoons to work in other fields due to social changes, but that too will result in cultural works that reflect their times.

Japanese media, and their culture, is unique. The Japanese people know this and they celebrate it, more so than some other countries out there. They don’t hate themselves. They’re not afraid of showing it either, and they wish to share it with the world, if possible, with certain limitations. Their nation and the identity it has is strong and cohesive with a large number of regional differences to give vivid accents to any work. To break Japan’s export of culture with cultural colonialism would be heavily damaging, if not outright erasing the identity cultural products voice. Cultural exchange should not be this sort of one-sided corporate exchange, but where both sides agree and celebrate each other’s differences while agreeing to disagree with the incompatible ones. These are individuals and private companies who have a set target audience, and they should not be forced to cater other audiences or their whims if they choose not to.

Music of the Month; Guilty

A rare guest spot strikes again, since Aaltomies is busy moving to his new place! Congratulations! On the flipside. that means I have to find some subject to ramble about a little, so bear with me.

Let’s start with the new Digimon series, a reboot of Adventure. Honestly, when the series was announced I expected Toei to just remake the series whilst cleaning it up a fair bit, but those expectations were shattered fairly quickly with the Bokura no Wargame (Our War Game) opening. Instead of the summercamp, the events of the movie are brought all the way to the beginning without even introducing the whole main cast. We’re stuck with just Taichi and Koushiro who’re trying to figure out why the world is getting nuked.

During the first episode I was worried with the first villain, as it really resembled the Applimon series designwise. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but it does show that the new series isn’t afraid to put new designs in, for better or good.

Game-wise, I’ve been playing Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid after Aaltomies generously bought it for me because of my skepticism towards it. While I did watch some Power Rangers during my childhood (and I did own one or two toys) I was never fully enthralled by the world. Since then I have watched a couple loose of Super Sentai episodes with the ultimate goal of watching that one anniversary crossover where a bazillion rangers team up. Alas, that moment is still far away from me but it does help me a little with placing when which rangers appear and the changes the American version made. This isn’t a criticism, Power Rangers is very much it’s own thing with its own stories and characters.

Now, back to the game. Fighting games usually have some barrier of entry for new players, the most famous one being able to throw a hadouken (fireball) with the quarter-circle input. Things will usually get more complex from there. With PW:BftG that barrier is lowered dramatically, where the input difficulty is only slightly higher than any Super Smash Bros game. You have the light, medium and heavy attacks, sure. But then you have the ‘special’ button which has three variations by holding left, right or no direction.

This makes the game incredibly easy to pick up, even when you have no fighting game experience at all and it’s what makes it a lot of fun right off the bat. Gameplay wise (or as Aaltomies would say, play of the game) it has been described as a Marvel VS Capcom lite and one cannot fault that comparison when both players employ their assists filling the screen with mayhem.

In short, the game can very much be enjoyed without any real knowledge of the series. Sure, the story mode might not make a lot of sense, but just roll with it.

Hardy Science Fiction

For the last decade or so I have seen a change how some consumers view science fiction and fundamentally misunderstanding it. The core argument is that something isn’t science fiction after all, despite being labelled so for numerous years, if not decades prior, because it’s not realistic, or the science that it supposes simply couldn’t happen. Sidelining Clarke’s law about Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, for now, this is a patently false view on science fiction. It does, however, fit hard science fiction, a sub-genre of science fiction that is all about diamond-hard fiction without breaking the current understanding of science. By their very nature, their view on science will be obsoleted in a few years as science advances, they’ll turn what some people call soft science fiction.

Haldeman’s Forever War is a personal choice of work if I need to recommend a book with power armours and time dilation

The audience knows that the science presented in a science fiction work is largely fictitious. It’s part of the silent agreement with the author, where the viewer has been presented more or less a world where some elements are more believable than others regarding science. Some stories, like The Andromeda strain, stick extremely close to the guns and doesn’t veer away from possible reality. The suspension of disbelief happens with the whole point about a virus coming from outer space and being able to evolve like it does in the book, the rest what science fiction is at its core; it asks the question What if… SF handles concepts more than straight fantasy does, though SF in itself is a branching genre from fantasy. While fantasy is about grand themes and builds upon those themes, SF explores concepts. For example, in Asimov’s short story Jokester a question was passed to Multivac, a Superintelligent computer, where do jokes come from as they seem to be something that everyone tells, but nobody truly invents. To spoil over this sixty-year-old short story, the end result Multivac ends up coming with is that all jokes humanity tells are by some other extraterrestrial power that is implementing jokes into humanity as a control device. It also came to the conclusion that when the first human figures this out, jokes and humour would cease to be implemented as the testing has now been sullied and a new factor would replace it. Multivac in itself isn’t the science fiction element in this short story, nor are the god-like extraterrestrials, but the concept of humanity being used as lab rats. Asimov took a look at the concept and wrote a small story around it with a humorous, even if dark, angle. Similarly, Haldeman’s sequel novel Forever Free to his masterpiece Forever War was ultimately about the same concept with completely different kind of approach and realisation.

Asimov’s Foundation follows this the same kind of path. To describe the works shortly, it is about how to shorten the Galactic Dark Age that follows after mankind’s Galactic Empire falls. How the Galactic Empire, or how it has formed, how people interact across the planets and so isn’t the science fiction part, neither is the fall itself. The fall, in actuality, is merely background material and is based on the fall of the Roman Empire. That parts historic, not SF. The part that makes the Foundation series pinnacle of science fiction literature, something that makes it practically unadaptable, is psychohistory; a fictional field of science that combines statistics and psychology. Through psychohistory, one can make accurate predictions on how large groups of people will act based on those people and surrounding events, as long as they remain unaware of the analysation. The modern field of Big Data largely follows the same ideas, but in practice, the two are very different entities. Psychohistory is the fictional science element that in itself is a concept worth exploring. It opened more doors for Asimov to explore from how one group of people could control others through representing technology as a kind of religion to how it all can be taken down by one element that isn’t in the calculations. Asimov is famous for setting rules and regulations to his works with Laws of Robotics being his most famous. What most people don’t realise is that Asimov extensively explores these concepts and their failings to the point that his works alone are the best arguments why the Laws of Robotics are flawed. Similarly in the Foundation series, he explored how one inhuman element, a mutant, can throw a monkey wrench to otherwise perfectly working system. He then proceeded to explore how such things could be prevented or perhaps even corrected. Space travel and all that is merely flavour and the background to which the main dish is served.

While many news has stated teleportation to be science fact, its practical uses are still extremely limited, if not completely impractical

Similarly, Star Trek is often seen as a science fiction show because there are people in space going swish in a space ship. A hard science fiction writer wouldn’t be placing any space vessels outside our own solar system, as the science we have now doesn’t give any realistic methods to achieve even proper portions of the speed of light. We’d run out of time if we’d begin to travel interstellar space, the distances are just too large to get across. Star Trek could be said to be the archetypical positive work of science fiction, asking what if humanity had socially evolved to be a benevolent entity. Much like Asimov, many episodes question the Federation of Planets’ standards and ways of living to creator Roddenberry’s chagrin. Star Trek as the wagon show set in space itself could be regarded as science fiction, though much like with other popular SF works of the time, it gathers science facts of the time and makes assumptions in order to build that veneer again. The science in itself may be spotty, yet the function of science was aimed to be valid. The writing team employed some NASA members to ask what was possible and what wasn’t, but as with anything, the story comes first. Captain Kirk fighting a giant green lizard may seem hacky and laughable, yet at the core, the episode is about two completely alien cultures being forced to face each other to the end. The episode takes the initial What if… about humanity being able to become a force of good and reach the stars, challenging it in face of death and destruction, then given the possibility to destroy this malevolent force. Little things in Star Trek have become reality in a way or another, like the whole thing about portable phones and communicators. In the same manner, Orwell’s 1984 is effectively the opposite of Star Trek‘s positive view and explores the possibility of the world becoming a totalitarian hellhole akin to the Soviet Union. The telescreen technology is a possibility, but that is simply a tool to be able to tell the story through, much like how thought policing is.

While Mobile Suits may be unrealistic, FLAG’s HAVWCs are probably the mos realistic depiction mechas to date with their own specific applications on the field

Mecha, giant robots, is often taken as a method to tell an SF story. However, just like Star Trek, mecha is the framing device for the main dish. It’s the flavour something is painted in. One of the best examples can be found in Mobile Suit Gundam, in which most people would coin mechas and space set to be the whole SF thing. However, the main SF element in Gundam is exploring the next step in human evolution; the Newtypes, humans with an extra sense of space and time that they are able to share among each other. The space setting is necessary, as the show asks What if humanity would need to evolve in space, and how it would proceed. Then it explores what political and social implications it would yield to mankind in the guise of a war story. You could change the mechas Gundam to something else, powered armour or space tanks, and it’d work just as well. However, remove Newtypes and the core structure that holds both the setting and show’s concept together falls apart wholesale. Much like how Asimov explored the faults of his concepts, Gundam has seen numerous entries questioning the validity of humanity being able to share their thoughts across space and time. Yes, everybody knows mechas like Mobile Suits are impossible, impractical at best. That doesn’t take away the fun and interest in building on the idea and enjoying the flavour, basking in the intricate designs and history built on the already set up fiction.

As mentioned earlier, science fiction will always grow old. If SF work emphasize is mainly in the science or how it works based on then-current understanding, it’ll always be out of date. Giving a fictitious explanation based on the scientific method will always age better. Simply leaving something important unanswered often leads to weak world-building. Jurassic Park is an example of a work with extremely detailed and well-maintained world-building and explanations for its science. It is also an example of a work that, despite being heavily rooted in science that was possible, it is now an example of a work where we know about dinosaurs and cloning so much that the book is out of date. Nevertheless, this doesn’t take anything away from the story itself, or from the question What if humans were able to bring dinosaurs back. It brings more than just that on the table and explores more than one concept, like certain applications of the Chaos Theory. SF Debris did an excellent series on Jurassic Park this summer, which I wholeheartedly recommend watching.

The Lens itself could be considered a true and tested SF trope in itself, it being a sort of shared supercomputer

Even older works of science fiction seem rather weird to our modern eyes. For example, the classic Lensman series of books by Doc Smith has no computers in them despite an extremely advanced form of space travel that can cross galaxies and even dimensions. Everything is done by a slide rule, which is an analogue calculator. Or if you want to use the term used for people who used to compute numbers, an analogue computer. Some of Asimov’s earlier works lack computers as we understand them as well. Some of Asimov’s works began to include the aforementioned Multivac supercomputer but described some of them taking the size of whole planets. This was as according to science as understood at a specific time when it was assumed that only a few computers would be built due to their sheer size. Nowadays we have computers in our pockets every day that would have been considered impossible half a century ago. If science doesn’t have answers at the time to a problem a writer has, fiction has to take its place. The writer has to come up with a fictional explanation to the issue that hasn’t been solved or doesn’t have an answer. We can imagine many things based on popular culture and relevant science, but if neither presents any relevant information, we can’t imagine such things existing. There are things we can’t imagine existing because they haven’t been invented yet, nor has the science they’re based on. To use Lensman as an example again, it plays with the concept of negative matter. Not anti-matter, but negative matter, which would react the opposite it as it was interacted with. For example, if you pushed it, it would move back towards you. Anti-matter would be detected only later and its properties were found to be wildly different, but Doc Smith had some foresight into a concept of opposing matter. Lack of any kind of knowledge on the papers, however, forced him to use his artistic license. Even things like warp drive have been suggested to be a possibility, namely with the Alcubierre drive, but even in this, some elements are missing. The drive would necessitate negative energy and anti-gravity, neither of which Einstein’s theory of relativity considers impossible. In practice, it may be, but there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence to either direction.

Science fiction expects the science found in the work to be fictitious. Unless it is hard science fiction, the science itself does not have to be real, merely consistent with itself and the established scientific method. However, it is always taking back seat the moment the story needs it to. Star Trek, despite its science mostly bullshit, is largely consistent with itself. Nevertheless, what the scientific concept ultimately truly is often isn’t all that clear. Spaceships, lasers and all that we consider as old tropes in the genre used to be new and cutting-edge ideas. A raygun was a valid concept in the form fiction often describes it, before further exploration in the technology ultimately deemed it more or less impossible due to materials and physics involved. Material science, science overall, evolves at its own pace, always improved by necessity in burst-like motions. Many times we don’t even consider small things in our lives to be the end result of massive leaps and bounds in technology and science. The fact that we have a small diode, smaller than the size of your fingernail, now being able to be brighter than the sun and lit up a whole room. I’m looking at an old lightbulb on my desk I found today in my mother’s storage and wondering how this more than twenty-year-old bulb can last less time than my LED bulb, how it eats more energy and yet gives less light. The concept of itty bitty lights in a torch from fifty years ago is now a reality. The way science fiction, in general, represents its impossible science doesn’t matter, but what it does with its concepts and how it tells its stories, is.

Destruction of the picture is ever evolving

Back in the day when we only had square screens and movies were wider than they were taller, home media releases tended to butcher the image. Not only were wider images often just cropped to fit the more square screen, but pan and scan was applied to showcase and focus more on certain parts of the picture. Take a look at the comparison video how pan and scan was made with Ghostbusters and how much the intended picture was lost, or how extra editing had to be done.

This isn’t just something that was done throughout the existence of mainstream home media. Even Laserdisc, the format that was touted as the film fanatic’s choice, suffered greatly for many releases being pan and scan. The reason is the same why older media that was produced before the HD media hit around the corner is being cropped and slapped with some effect on top. The resulting ruination removes information on the screen, causing actors’ and surroundings to go unseen. In comedic media, you often see jokes and even scene important elements lost to pan and scan as the focus has to be on the speaker. To use Ghostbusters as an example, Spookcentral has a good three-point comparison what’s the core issue.

At the top, we have the original picture, with a cropped version to fit a different aspect ratio, and then at the bottom a pan and scan. The pan and scan version would have to move the image left and right to cover the whole scene to show all of the picture. Sometimes it simply doesn’t, which results in static cropping. This results large areas of information being lost to the viewer, in this case, we either lose Winston, or both Egon and Winston. This isn’t a single case; almost every single movie released on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD have pan and scan version out there well into the mid-00’s before HD screens took over. You would think this issue would be solved. After all, all modern screens are wider than they are taller by standard, but that’s not the case. The pendulum has swung to the opposite direction.

As older televisions programs use older standards for the screen size, they don’t fit modern screens without empty space. Hence, shows like The Simpsons are being cropped to fit the new standards, losing large amounts of information and destroying the scenes’ layout. Bart and Lisa on the above shot lose all of their torsoes and the luxurious house is almost completely gone. The scene has become too cramped, there’s less room to breath. Here’s an example how cropping removes whole jokes from scenes.

Nabbed from Tristan Cooper’s Twitter

The whole joke about Duff Classic, Duff Lite and Duff Dry all coming from the same pipeline got axed. This repeats throughout the whole show on Disney+, and worse all, Fox has been selling these versions to overseas markets to be rerun on television. This means the only way to see The Simpsons as it was meant to be seen is on DVD or VHS. In one of the DVD commentaries Matt Groening mentioned that there will never be Bluray realease of the show, because the DVD is already at the resolution the show was made in. However, as you can see on the cropped version, they’ve upscaled the image and applied some smoothening effect to it. Recently I watched half an episode of the show on local television, and witnessed how a classic episode was effectively ruined by cropping and by this smoothening effect, destroying detail and sharpness of the picture. This was made in order to make the show look like modern contemporaries or newer episodes, as no line ended in a sharp stroke but to a round end. Colour variation and balance had been destroyed in an attempt to move any sort of grain or scratch off the screen and making things higher in contrast. Tristan also pointed out how in certain scenes you don’t only get cropping, but stretching too.

The Simpsons is the most cited example of this, but it is far from the only show that experiences this. The He-Man Official Youtube channel has a long history of stretching and cropping full episodes they upload, with all episode of The New Adventures of He-Man being cropped. Originally, their He-Man and the Masters of the Universe episodes were both stretched and cropped, but after someone kept bitching at them episode after episode they slowly began to upload episodes in proper aspect ratio, only return to stretching and cropping. Take a look at how Castle Grayskull looks between their normal and stretched videos.

As you can see, the image was simply stretched to fit the new standard’s width without any consideration what it does to the image. Everything is simply wider with no reason behind it. There’s no lost information in this way, but it’s not how it should look like. At least there isn’t information lost. There is also no rhyme or reason how or when Filmation’s cartoons get what treatment, as an episode of Bravestarr that was uploaded a month ago still has its proper aspect ratio, but every upload after that suddenly begun to be cropped or stretched, starting from this episode, from 25th of July onward.

There are massive amounts of shows in streaming services and on home media that does these exact same things, cropping and stretching. In effect, it is the same fear of the empty screen space that was driving cropping and pan and scan. Both the game and film industry, television included, are too fearful of those black bars. This may be because some of the home consumers think the picture has been cut off or their screen is broken. Sony even has a support article explaining that there are media in a different aspect ratio, and even recommend zooming or widening the picture via TVs own settings, something now self-respecting consumer would do. The results would be as you see above; lost information and screwed-up picture. I’m not sure if it’s just inbred stupidity or lack of education that makes people think something is wrong with the picture if they don’t have their whole screen filled, or if it’s simply sheer ignorance.

The consumer, ultimately, is not responsible for these despite there being a group that doesn’t apparently understand aspect ratios. However, we have all the information we could hope for at the tip of our fingers, this information is readily available for anyone who wants to see what’s with their picture. Then again, almost all home media, at least physical media, lists the aspect ratio at the back of the box. This, of course, would mean the consumer would need to learn something about aspect ratio. Not everyone is interested in that, but really, it’s one of those little things everybody should learn about as part of their normal media education.

After all, film and television are considered a form of art. Consuming both in their proper, intended format is necessary in order to fully experience the effects and intentions the creators have used the screen for. Be it Jurassic Park‘s higher than standard screen or TV’s square-ish format, it’s all about what it has been designed and intended to be in. We should not hammer a square peg into a round hole, like so many studios and services are at the moment.

 

Digital takeover?

With nations going to lockdown modes, travelling being restricted and products unable to move from place A to place B, the world faces changes. Some of the changes will be long lasting, while others will be temporary at best. In a way, we’re faced with a moment in time, where only the essentials should matter. If you’re not directly in relation of producing foods or essential services, or are able to work from home, chances are you’re going to miss some work. Entertainment is, to be brutally honest, is probably the least important part of life. While the modern society is mostly used to have content provided via whatever screen we choose, numerous places that offer entertainment outside your home environment. For example, the movie theatres are effectively closed for the time being, hurting their income and their workers’ pay. With the theatres closed, some of the studios have opted to stream their movies in much faster order than usual.

The discussion of digital superseding over physical is often only about the media, how games, music and movies are going to vanish from the store shelves in the future and be replaced with digital-only counterparts. While this is extremely rosy view of the future, this discussion should also include automatisation as an essential part of it. Some types of work will be replaced with their digital and automated, and on the long run, most work from medical care to translation can be automated. It’ll just take long time to get there, improvements in special kind of AI and automatisation, but nothing’s really out of question. At some point we are going to have discussions whether or not we are going to allow digitalisation of work to replace human workers in some particular fields. Futurism.com has an article about Artificial Intelligence that is able to make more accurate diagnoses as a doctor than a human one. In time, digitalisation will take things to the point that consumers will be taking goods and be served by automatons. Digitalisation promises offers of superior experience every which way. It is already spilling out from factories and whatnot to digital environment, where 3D models are already used to entice viewers to enjoy video contents more.

Though who needs mp3 players or whatnot when you can have a non-digital automaton playing tunes for you

The whole Virtual Youtuber thing is digitalisation at its best. Sure, you have someone acting behind the character, but the 3D model removes all the needs for the actors to change their body structures or put make up. Chaturbate users experienced what it means to compete with automated content, when Projekt Melody shot to the top and displaced most of the top models and was raking in money like no other. Projekt Melody is effectively a VTuber for porn and offers the exact same benefits that other automation offers; Better results in less time, and end result that will entice more customers. It’s more efficient and with the provider being able to deliver whatever visual designs and flavours the customers want, Projekt Melody is able deliver harder and faster the same experience live model have to work hard for. This lead many of the models on the site rioting, of course, resorting to name calling Projekt Melody’s viewers and fans (despite these exact same people are their potential customers) as well as claiming this was unfair competition. In reality, they are now facing the first steps in having digitalisation and automatisation entering their field of profession.

Digitalisation doesn’t straight up mean that robots and automatisation replaces someone’s work. Well, in practice it does, as rarely the same person is trained to maintain the automation. At least one human has to be behind automated work to keep it in check, to ensure that it runs well. A welder would do good by aiming to move from manual welding to become a robot operator, if possible, as in time welding in factory conditions will slowly but surely replace the human worker. The companies themselves might be against this, be it trusting human worker more or due to sociopolitical issues, but robots will always end up being more efficient than the humans, be it in the factory, in the doctor’s office or something you want to jerk off to. We are already happily using platforms that are supplanting physical environs. Netflix may be new television, but it has been said to be the reason why movie theatres are dying, online shopping has been replacing physical stores (which is a terrific example of its implementation as the customer feels like their doing something significant and non-automated), especially now that you can order your foodstuff to be delivered to your door. I wouldn’t put it past the post offices around the world to aim replacing their postmen with drones, like how Amazon is testing their drones. It all might have a high up-front cost, yet on the long run it’ll be that much cheaper. This is one of those things where companies may not want to prioritise short-term gains over permanent long-term gains and begin automation. Current structures may not support automated environments straight up, but all that is easy to change.

While digital media has not phased physical media out, there is a possibility that the infrastructure for that is being implemented at this moment in time. After that, there really isn’t a need to go back. Digitalisation and automatisation go hand in hand, and while customers are now inconvenienced by the epidemic, the most inconvenient and easier way to consume and explore entertainment is digitally. The discussions about consumer rights and ownership is not even thought about, something this blog has been discussing to a major extent in the past. Consumer behaviour has been drastically altered now and it is possible we are seeing a strong paradigm shift. Not only customers are going for the digital option, either because of fears or convenience, the companies have to make due with whatever production methods they have at hand. China’s factories being closed means everything has to be postponed or other forms of delivery (i.e. digital) have to take priority. Local production may be emphasised and thoughts about becoming more independent from foreign produce. Of course, some nations can’t really match up the sheer volume in production others can achieve, which will lead into local produce being costlier than imported. Whether or not this would be a chance to increase local production, or if people will simply change their habits of consumption, is open in the air. It’ll be interesting to look back few years from now to see how both customers and industries have changed.

Broken Luv

One pastime I’ve seen Muv-Luv taking part in has been making up ways how the core story could be translated and adapted for animation. Everything from two cours (aka twenty-four episodes) to a series of movies, things have been explored a lot. However, very few of the discussions have been what I’d describe realistic. They’ve been best case scenarios after all. With the announcement of Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation, the issue has become less academical. I’ll be using that in Animation suffix when specifically speaking about the upcoming animation to make a clear difference. It’s not its official title or anything, but I like the sound of it. Sue me. Guesses are left and right what form the adaptation will take and how many episodes, what changes will be made, what studio will be working on it and how the air-intake hairs will survive. Looking at modern trends and the history of Muv-Luv in animation should give us some idea.

The main reason Muv-Luv  as a whole can’t be adapted for television or otherwise is because at its core the storytelling is broken. Fans know that Muv-Luv was originally supposed to be relatively contemporary piece to Kimi ga Nozomu Eien/Rumbling Hearts (which really should be Trembling but âge English is kinda like that.) It was not intended to be three-part sprawling venture, but as KGNE saw success, plans grew and bloated to the point where it had to be cut in half. Extra was meant to be its namesake, an extra chapter after you’ve managed to find the one true love that would prevent world from going to hell with The Day After, not a character-setting twelve hour comedy romp it became. Unlimited wasn’t supposed to be a thing on itself even, but more akin to different routes that lead to similar ending. After multiple read-through, perhaps needing to unlock all other endings or just few at first, you would be able to find the titular True Love route. With ML Alternative putting emphasis on Takeru being cycled over and over again with little to no memory all the while retaining physical attributes, the original core design of the Visual Novel was completely different what we got. Its scale was smaller, more focused and KGNE‘s running success changed that.  âge originally pushed back Muv-Luv to a 2002  release instead of its original 2001 as they revised its scale, but ultimately had to be pushed out in February 2003 due to the company running out on time and money. At that point, the story the original product was already split and broken. Alternative would definitely follow in 2004. It wouldn’t until February 2006, and in the meanwhile some smaller stopgags like Muv-Luv Supplement were pushed out.

Muv-Luv is often described as a trilogy, but in two titles. This still trips people up, which further shows that something went wrong at some point. Maybe making a difference between Unlimited and Extra was a mistake in itself and something better should’ve been implemented. Merch and spinoffs make good use of the labelling though, but only if you already know what’s what. There is no product separately sold as Muv-Luv Unlimited

Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative has been criticised for being badly paced, and that’s just one result of the work as a whole becoming so huge. The Genre Shift between Extra and Unlimited is a direct result of this as well, which has lead many people to dislike the now-first part of the three core stories. Multiple real-world events changed the plot-line here and there, like the 2005 London bombing. Certain event later in Alternative probably saw the most changes, as âge wanted to avoid accusations of portraying terrorism in a positive light. That wasn’t the only issue, during development âge always feared that their work would be be labelled as extremely right-wing, so the original version of MLA’s Imperial Japan went through revisions. Some hints to the original plotlines still exist in the final work, like having a tsunami at the end of Operation 21st, whereas originally it as supposed to devastate Niigata. 2004 Chuuetsu earthquake was the reason its results are largely glossed over rather than be a significant part of the story, where Kashiwagi was supposed to have a major role. Discussion whether or not real world events should be allowed to influence artistic integrity and vision like this may be relevant, but at the same time we also have to remember how Muv-Luv overall is a commercial product and companies have to be aware of how they depict things in order to avoid bad rap. It’s a careful balancing act, sometimes you have to sacrifice some of your vision for the sake of the product itself.

With numerous revisions that weren’t originally intended, bloat finding its way in with meandering bits here and there, it’s not hard to see where bloat sets in by itself (just like this post, amrite guys?). Things kind of just ran ahead of themselves as the scope grew, but deadlines are a bitch and you can’t delay a product indefinitely, no matter how âge would like to do so. All three parts suffer from spots where the story grinds to a halt. The VNs are somewhat infamous for halting the progress of the story to deliver information to reader in major sections as info dumps. Very few works have managed to drop an hour’s worth of info into the reader’s lap and expect the reader to absorb it, and Muv-Luv isn’t one of them. No matter how interested you’re into the characters and the world, being stuck in a literal school lesson for information that could have been worked in better is simply bad design. Lacrosse arc’s existence is literally just to foreshadow how the character dynamics will clash later in, and has an equivalent even later in the story, yet the arc itself is considered to be low point in the whole body of work. It’s dull and we already knew the character’s personalities at that point. It’s overly long and some people just skip it. Despite the story itself being damn well written at its core, the bloat shows itself here and there. Muv-Luv is at its best when it has a nice jogging pace with few moments to slow down here and there before the events hit a nitro boost. It likes to wallow in going on and on about things, especially during Alternative. Being invested into the characters is its saving grace, but that’s almost a coin toss.

If an animation would like to cover all of Muv-Luv as it stands now, from the very start of Extra to the very finish of Alternative, we’re too late for that. With the lack of success with Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse and near total disaster with Schwarzesmarken, I can assure you Muv-Luv Alternative‘s animation adaptation will not get more than one cours, twelve episodes. The IP may have been in a better in late 00’s when Akane Maniax was supposed to set Muv-Luv animation up, which never happened as the deal fell through, but now the IP is volatile at best, dangerous money waste at worst. âge has not produced anything that has made an impact since Alternative and I’d argue their most successful project after that was the Kickstarter. That of course attracted lot of attention and played large part in the future of âge. A million dollar crowdfunding from an internationally unknown company is bound to raise some attention. We know that something is always going on in the corporate background, and you can bet animation rights were discussed in the background at that time, culminating in in Animation. Avex’s obtaining âge from Acid and ixtl being terminated in favour of /restructured into aNCHOR are all results from âge’s media failures and Kickstarter’s success. We should put an emphasis on the Kickstarter, as it served as a cornerstone for âge’s real realisation that they got international fans and untapped market. Well, as untapped as you can get with Visual Novels, they’re not exactly a success in Japan either with handful of companies going bust each year. The media being sold as games harms it, as it does not represent its true nature as literature allowed by our digital age. In short; VN based IPs are pretty fucked at the moment, unless they can diversify themselves. âge’s both mobile games have failed and closed in about year after their launch, VNs sales have been lacking (mostly due to lack of products) and both television shows were effectively bust. âge might still have faith in the IP, but the surrounding companies will think twice or thrice before throwing their lot in.

All this, and the current trends, tells me that Muv-Luv Alternative will be a one cours show with about twelve episodes. We’ve already seen numerous redesigns of the characters in Exogularity books, and modern take on the characters is effectively required. The show and the story must be retooled to fit the modern age, both in its core structure and in designs. I’ll argue that the Tactical Surface Fighters are the best designs in the franchise, as they’ve been designed to be largely ageless. They don’t really look like mechas from the early and mid-00’s. Hell, if anything the visual flavour TSFs are in has become somewhat popular. Sure, you have the paper thin waist and some oddities here and there, but largely TSF designs are made well enough to still look fresh. The same can’t be said for the characters, who look like they’re stuck in the change of millennium. Anime style has dropped geometrical (and puffy) hair in favour of sleeker, flatter hair. I don’t find anything offensive about the characters despite being an old fart who still buys 1980’s comics like they were new, yet we can’t ignore how each era has its own visual flavour. The above are not the animation designs or anything related to the animation in itself, but this is the direction we’re going to some extent. âge is a trend follower rather than setter in this. Despite Ban being 10/10 in visual style and I would want him to be employed 24/7 with everything I love, you should expect something different still. Something that’s already tested the waters and that is massively successful. Maybe the guy who did Girls und Panzers or the LoveLive guy will do the redesigns for the anime. Those have been popular shows, and something people would recognise. Hell now I want to see Sugimori-style Muv-Luv content just for the kickers.

One cours adaptation might be able to fix Muv-Luv‘s pacing as much as it probably will completely destroy it. If it gets more than one cours, hey that’d be fine too. However, what Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation needs from the original work is its core intention. The original form of Muv-Luv is still there, under all that extended plotlines and content, all that bloat and info dumps, under all the sectioned and split parts. Let’s take it as face value and consider the title as true; it will be just the Alternative portion of the package. This would mean both Extra and Unlimited would be relegated to being flashbacks and references. The series would be build on mystery about this one guy who clearly knows something bad is going to happen if things aren’t done the right way, but at the same time he doesn’t belong here. There’s a crashed giant robot outside his home, but somehow that doesn’t really phase him. Familiar faces, familiar places, but it’s not his home. Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation would have to build itself on the last cycle of the original design, and on Alternative we got, relegating Extra and Unlimited as necessary flashbacks, maybe even visiting those events. You could start the series with one episode of showcasing everyday comedy in Extra setting, then move into an episode ending cliffhanger with the BETAverse. In between this, show Takeru dreaming of all the other possible routes and events, all the misery and death the world would know if he didn’t put the foreknowledge be obtained from repeated deaths into proper and immediate use. While the Visual Novels build on the reader becoming invested into the characters and even falling in love with them, that is the result of the whole product having been restructured. It has become the VNs main strength and weakness. If you’re dedicated and invested in these characters, you will stand through the bloat and bad pacing. Hell, you probably won’t notice them all that much, because you’re heart and soul is in it. If you’re not, the rest will probably kill your interest before you get to the main dish of the whole story. Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation has to focus on the core and leave all what we now consider as set-up as something a mystery. Other characters will get emphasised, lesser ones will be cut. The same applies to events, and some will see modified, rest assured. Twelve episodes is enough to adapt Alternative with some Extra and Unlimited trickled in, but as said, it’s a delicate surgeon’s job. It will be familiar to the fans, but at the same time, this show really needs to be a hit with the larger audience. At this point, a Muv-Luv Alternative animation can’t serve just a commercial vehicle for the Visual Novels, we’re about a decade too late for that.

While we’re at it, go watch Ayu Matu Theater

I have no data why âge’s 20th anniversary stream didn’t put anything solid down on development and releases outside Project MIKHAIL. All we got We’d like to do this and We don’ have budget set. At face value you could almost believe that âge doesn’t have the money to put projects into full development cycle and publish their products. Maybe that rumoured Kimi ga Nozomu Eien translation got stuck due to the same issue, maybe requiring crowdfunding down the line or be split into two products like Schwarzesmarken was. SM VN’s sales were terrible, mind you, splitting a whole product like that is never a good idea. Except they kind of did that with Muv-Luv already. Still, the lack of sales would indicate this for sure, but at the same time I have to question if the fans have been the only thing keeping âge alive? If the fandom wasn’t so solid and willing towards the company, would âge have gone the way of the dodo already? That Kimi ga Nozomu Eien remake has been in the works on some level for at least five years now, and Muv-Luv Integrate seems to take elements from Strike Frontier’s second season but I’ll get to that whenever I write about Integrate. A new The Day After probably will most like maybe be done. Everything’s vague, outside that we’re going to get that animation, and that’s probably a linchpin in all this. If this is the third time a Muv-Luv animation fails, they don’t have much material to work on anymore. The core story where everything else stems from has to hit the mark, there really aren’t any other options.

Just as a quick tangent, what can they hope to do with Kimi ga Nozomu Eien‘s Reboot? The story doesn’t need more elaboration on, it is a full package unto itself. The only worthwhile addition I can see it happening to it if they’d actually make it more an actual game, with scheduled events, character stat management and Adventure game styled options to interact with each scene. I don’t have faith that modern âge can add anything worthwhile to the package. If it’s going to end up being similar to Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu remake, aka worthless waste of everyone’s time, I can say I’m not interested. I may be be a fan, but I’m not one to blow money blindly on products that can’t make their original versions obsolete. Sure, modernise it with new style, tweak the story a bit here and there to fix some of its problems, maybe add a scenario or two, but what are they going to do in order to add unique value? Tie it more to Muv-Luv? I’d consider that a major misstep. Integrate may be a project to bring all that together, but Christ if everything just ends up being Muv-Luv in a way or another, I’d like to have that early 00’s struggling âge back in order to force them to work with smaller scale titles and even more limited budget and staff. It’d be the very opposite of diversifying your product line. KGNE Reboot has to have value on its own, something that will both obsolete the original product and its Latest Edition iteration, and make it stand alone on its own two feet without resorting to nostalgia and other IPs.

It’s both rather funny and disheartening to consider Kimi ga Nozomu Eien to be âge’s breakout title, but also the title that made the company name to be reckoned with. As much as Muv-Luv Alternative is talked to have influenced this and that, like Attack on Titan, it still had less an impact that KGNE. Hell, at the time I was reading Japanese magazines claiming the title solely created so-called nakege, titles intended for the consumer to cry over due to its emotionally hitting writing and topics. Tsundere is often coined for âge and KGNE as the originator, which isn’t exactly all that correct, but sure let’s just go with it. It was also KGNE animation that broke through to the general consensus and people who didn’t care for VNs at the time were reportedly picking up the PS2 version just to check the it out. The sheer success of that one property was never replicated in later works, and ultimately âge became almost obsessed solely to make Muv-Luv related products, dropping their other sub-brands completely and all other types of products they were making. I don’t see this as a healthy way of doing  business. Visual Novel companies never had million dollar budgets to throw around, especially now that they’re a slowly dying niche. It is a small miracle Muv-Luv and Alternative were even made with in their current form, especially by a company who often gets criticised for mishandling scheduling and budgets.

I’m not worrying over Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation. If it fails, nothing has changed and the course of the company will stay the same. If it succeeds, âge should have more resources under its belt to get something off the ground again. While you can live on your core fans to certain point, with remakes, localisations and sequels, expanding that base is required if you want to do more and expand your company. Maybe building a full-fledged strategy RPG could do the trick, or an action game similar to Virtual-On and Another Century’s Episode could do draw in some attention. The setting surely allows all this. Perhaps finally create something new and not rely on Muv-Luv as the only piece they have to offer.

I hope I’m not alone in thinking how Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative together make a great story, but the way the story is told in the Visual Novels is not exactly a class in masterclass prose. Perhaps the original intention was worse, maybe it was better. Maybe all those revisions, all the work that, blood and tears that went into making its final form, flawed and lacking as it may be, allowed the title to be the very best it could. It might have become somewhat impenetrable to some. Muv-Luv may not have become a pop-cultural juggernaut, but its impact on different sects of popular sub-cultures can’t be denied. If Muv-Luv were ever to get a full-on remake, I’d wish the originally intended form to be implemented, that its original intention would be realised  in full-scale. in Animation has all the chances to fix the spots where Alternative faulters. It’s going to be a tough job, especially all the while it has to be modernised for completely new audience that wasn’t there in the early and mid 00’s. Expectations are high. We’ll have to sit tight to wait and see.

The Moving American Dream

Why is Disney adapting their animated works into live-action? has been a question asked more time than answered. Money is of course the answer, and plays a large, major part in whatever decision Disney does, but it’s also about the good ol’ attitude of Animation isn’t enough. The film, movie, flick or whatever you want to call them, is still considered to be the top form of art in the American culture, which then has spread across the world to some extent. This of course does not apply globally, we know Japan loves its animation about as much as it loves its live-acted ones, but embraces them completely differently from a cultural point of view. Consider porn, for example. You got relatively large amounts of drawn and cartoon porn in Japan and very few will bat an eye to it, but in America, no such industry exist in the same way. The American culture couldn’t have created something like Lemon People in the 1980’s. Hell, technically the comic I compare it to, Heavy Metal, was originally French comic called Métal Hurlant. But when it comes to live performances caught on film, there’s nothing quite Hollywood.

What Golden Age of Hollywood sold to its public, and through that to the culture at large, was a window. What this window sold was glimpses to glory, to love, to murder, to horror and yearning the human soul is heir to. You can see the people through the window and embrace their stories as they’re shown, not told. When you sit a theater to watch a movie, you see through the window the faux-reality presented and you’re sold on it. It’s wish fulfillment, whatever it is. Perhaps we want to see how badly someone else’s life is through gruesomely realistic depiction of some wretched bastard taking another shot of heroin and beating the shit out of one’s family to have something to contrast to our own lives, or perhaps that one glorious, fabulous story about love between two completely opposite people in stance and personality ultimately break the accepted mould the society has set up, coming at the top and showing nothing can stand in the way of true love. The Hollywood film has sold its viewers thousands upon thousands of stories and emotion to the point of becoming the way to do so. Books are fine, but you can’t see the world, not really. Animation offers all the possibilities, but it’s animation, not real. Movies on the other hand, they show you that it’s (fake) real.

The reality of films is not created by just the actors, though the play the most important part. Even when the sets and costumes might be drab and the everything looks fake, as long as the actor can sell you the role and the emotions their characters are going through, you’re sold. Everything else comes after. The sets, the costumes, the special effects, all that is there to sell the reality of things. Even if it’s science fiction or fantasy, as long as you can see it on screen with people, you can believe what you see through that window. Add in the music, that more often than not is intended to support the scenes, pull your heart strings, make it beat harder, seed fear in to the back of your head or have your stomach hurt from laughter.

The live part is important, as that is the true connection we make through the window. While animation does have all the other elements, it lacks the real person on screen. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? doesn’t count, and neither do the Marvel flicks, despite being 90% of computer generated animation rather than the reality itself. That is strange in itself. The Western attitude towards animation became that it is only for children or child minded some time after the Second World War, and perhaps it’s Disney we should put blame on, because pre-war cartoons and animations were for all ages and adult animations were a thing. The cultural shift wasn’t a done deal overnight, or within a decade even, but a gradual shift as movies as a media matured. Perhaps that choice of word puts it in the right place when it comes to what happened; in the minds of people who grew up, things had to be more mature. Silly cartoons with silly characters doesn’t cut it, and the sentiment seems to have spread from there. Animation, despite allowing impossible depictions, just doesn’t stand up to the window of reality. With most big even blockbuster movies the animation has taken its role as depicting the impossible while you still have some resemblances of that window to reality. Superman told you that you’d believe a man can fly, and that was a massive special effects extravaganza for its time. Now, it’s quint, something anyone and their mothers could do via Windows Movie Maker’s special effects tab, or whatever the modern alternatives are.

Perhaps the example how the media are seen are best embodied with 1980’s films-into-cartoons groove, where movies like Robocop and Rambo saw Saturday morning cartoons made out of them. You could give any film franchise this treatment, like Aliens. Well, it never got made, but you had Conan the Adventurer to take its place. Perhaps it’s the fact that kids tend to watch more cartoons, but is that because cartoons are more made for kids? Or is that there aren’t cartoons that are made for adults in the same manner? Perhaps that’s what the Marvel and other comic book movies are, cartoons for adults. We can still call them live-action because there’s an actor on the screen and some live places, but majority of it is special effects and computer rendered backgrounds.

Whatever we call Hollywood to be, an empty and vapid cesspool of actors and directors living in a bubble, or peddlers of dreams and stories, it sold us the culture of film and they are perceived, for better or worse. The appreciation of film is at the top of the ladder. A comic isn’t enough, a book isn’t enough, a cartoon isn’t enough, a TV-show isn’t enough. It can be made into a movie. A million dollar production with bombastic soundtrack that shows the richness of the story and the depth of the characters with fully realised and believable world. All seen through that one window, the silver screen. The film is the end-all top of American art, where all other forms of art go become one unit. Movies have cultured a near religion around them, a modern myth of its myth and importance above all. No other form of media can compete with them. Well, except computer and video games that have larger markets.

Movies are inherently passive, you are sitting there only to watch and listen, never participate. Games have been chasing movies in presentation and how they tell their stories since early on, never really realising that the player is the actor and his actions are the story worth, not the readily set scenes. The mindset we still have from movies and other media is that we are presented a story separate from the consumer, something we must observe. Games inherently break this, unless the game is stopped for that story to take place. There are attempts where these same scenes are set during play, where characters may yell stuff during a boss fight, but that’s still passively listening to a performance. Gaming at its core fights against this, as the core is still from wholly different culture of games, not of theater. Games are active storytelling; the mission to collect five coins is not the story, but the action of collecting of those coins is. In a movie, you’d get a montage or a music scene to skip the boring walking bits, but for a game those walking bits are the main story, and that main story changes with every player. No player plays the same way and films will never be able to have that. Whenever you replay a game, it will be a slightly different story. Perhaps your character is rogue instead of a knight this time around. Movies never change. You can not take a game and make it a movie without breaking it and vice versa. You can take the framing of the game and make that into a movie, but never the game itself. It’s no wonder streaming and eSports are popular nowadays as those could be argued to be the only true representation of games in passive form; they are live theater with no script other than what the game allows.

It’s not surprise lots of film makers want to get into making games, but more often than not, their involvement has produced largely low-quality products. A movie doesn’t make a good game. Framing games in terms of storytelling like movies will end up with a lacklustre game. Viewed as a film it may be a good product, but at that point you might as well make your game into an animated feature, or take the same amount of money and produce a movie. It’d be outright laughable to say any story would be too weird or hard to make a movie out of. Hell, the amount of weird shit out there due to all the indie movies we’ve seen through the years beats games in the weirdness factor by a mile or three. Hideo Kojima probably won’t be making a movie, because Hollywood and film makers overall don’t understand how games truly tell the story, and this seems to apply the same with many developers. There is a deep contradicting element how games tell their story, and how they are made to tell the story. Part of it is because passive storytelling is glorified. Games are, after all, about choice. The passive approach stifles this. Some games manage to weave the story where the player is in-person all the time without any breaks in the way, while others intend to tell one story and one story only. In a game this can only be done by breaking the game itself and make the player passive parts, because traditional storytelling expects you to sit back and watch as the teller tells his tale. Thank God for Skip button.

Companies like Nintendo and Capcom consistently have taken advantage of movies and television as vehicles to promote their main products, the games. Street Fighter the Movies might be a terrible movie on its own rights, but it is an excellent vehicle to make the consumer aware of the brand. It doesn’t need to be accurate to the games as long as its remotely similar and the same names. The movie, when it comes to Capcom, is secondary. It’s not the end-all product. It’s brings in money and consumer awareness, both of which are turned to produce new games and that awareness is taken advantage. More people will be aware of Monster Hunter as a brand whenever that film comes out, despite MH World breaking series records. Yet Capcom’s stance on the movies is that they’re great marketing vehicle, just big budget commercials. Y’know, on the same treatment level as the detergent commercial on telly, just with more in-depth plot and characters with music to go with it. There has been a slow shift how movies are seen with new generations that have grown with computer and video games, and the older generations who value Hollywood and films more don’t seem to understand what makes a game tick.

Nevertheless, movies’ position hasn’t really changed in the last fifty odd years, and probably won’t change until something that could kick it off the pole. In many ways, movies took the place live theater had. Gaming probably won’t dethrone films despite being a bigger industry, as its origin and place in consumer media inhabits a different ecosystem. At some point a new form of entertainment will kick in, but much like how movies are successors to theater, I’ll bet the dethroning will be done by a media that will grow out from films. Same goes for video games. It might not be until technology advances to some unimaginable point in the future we won’t be alive to see, but progress can’t be stopped. Unless we manage to nuke ourselves back to the stone age. Better learn how to make pine cone animals while you still can.

The act of an Artista

I’ve been recently on a slight nostalgia bent with giant robots, and I decided to revisit a franchise I didn’t really have any interest to check out outside its designs, the 1986 comic Five Star Stories, (which is still running) illustrated and written by in/famous Mamoru Nagano. Nagano is somewhat a divisive person, mostly known for his extremely flowy and detailed mecha designs. Outside his own works, he’s known for mechanical designs for Heavy Metal G-Gaim, but his career includes fashion designing, making music, directing and writing. He tends to rub a bit wrong with some people, as a person he is strong willed to put it diplomatically, and is overprotective of his works to a fault. He has his own publishing company to make sure he has reins on Five Star Stories, called Toypress. He sounds like a person who just wants to protect his rights as an artist, but the stories from the animation and comic industry paints him an asshole at times, sometimes obsessively hands on projects to the point of detriment. Nagano’s visual style has always been heavy on the detail, and whenever he can, he won’t budge on the quality. Nagano considers that his works on L-Gaim were never incorporated properly, mostly due to his style being rather different. For something like L-Gaim this isn’t really as problem, but with a show like Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, you need to consider the existing motifs and design language, something Nagano understood only later on. Ollie Barder has rather extensive interview with Nagano Forbes that I warmly recommend reading.

Guess what time it is?

My nostalgia of course lead me to return to Nagano’s Gothicmade, an animated film he started making at least since 2006, perhaps even earlier. When it was announced, people were rather hype about it, as Nagano’s style and designs are still considered some of the best in the mecha genre. People were very eager to see what his new project would be like, with it taking to come out so long, when projects get stretched beyond their initial goals, people tend to find other things to occupy their attention. The movie finally debuted in 2012 in theatres, and has been rerun every now and then for limited time. As the first Japanese animated movie in 4K with D-Cinema 5.1, Nagano has stated that this movie won’t be leaving the theatres, because that is the only way he considers the proper form to experience his movie. As it happens with me, a lot of this kinda slipped out of memory, as things tend to do when you’re revisiting something you were hyping up over a decade ago.

Nagano isn’t the first artista, auteur, artist or whatever you want to name him to do something like this. All creators have an intended way for experiencing their production, which the consumer can break, much to the dismay of the creator. To use an old and worn out example, an elaborate set of dishes are often meant to be consumed in order and in particular fashion. Breaking the intended way of eating may, for example, produce the wrong taste due to incorrect order or because such. Similarly, a comic creator may only want his works to be read through printed medium, with specifically chosen paper and carefully curated choice of colours in order to ensure that not only his vision, but the accuracy of it, is best preserved for the reader. Then some slob just squirts ketchup from his hotdog and smudged shit up and glues the pages together. It happens. Some musician supposedly don’t like their music heard outside live concerts, and disdain recordings. That might be just the money issue, it’s a bit harder to pirate live concert in its best form than just ripping off a CD or music stream. Akira Ifukube didn’t want his compositions for Godzilla to be available separate from the movie until the 1980’s, as in his view the film and music had to be together to have the best effect; that the two complemented each other and both would be half as weak without the other.

Nagano isn’t the first one to argue for the sake of integrity of his work. While respectable, it could also be argued that home consumer technology has already passed Gothicmade. 4K image resolution has been passed some time ago with 8K screen being the new standard and we’re already seeing proper research and advancements made into 16K, with some production examples already being showcased, like Sony’s MicroLED display tech. When it comes to sound, home users can get fine sound, if not sometimes even better sound, from their home systems or headphones than what a theatre can offer. However, not everyone has the money, or want, to build themselves a home theatre to take full advantage of what they have. Screen sizes have become largely academical issue with screens and projects being able to throw image absolutely everywhere.

That is of course beside his main point. It’s not that home technology is well up to the task of showcasing Gothicmade to the home audiences, but that it is not intended to be viewed at home with any sort of system available there. You’re supposed to your way out there to get a ticket, then get into the theatre with other people of shared interest, sit on a cushion away from all the stuff you have at home, all the little mundane things that may scratch behind your dark unconscious mind, relax and take int the (supposedly) breath taking visuals on the screen, hear sound mixed as intended and proper volume and simply experience the marvel of the work. That is, if the work can actually deliver its intended effect.

Gothicmade was in the works for some six years because it was handled by Nagano himself and other small group of people. Nagano of course took the bulk of most tasks, and I recall jokes how he and three others worked the movie in his basement, which probably isn’t too far off the mark. Budget has never been revealed, but working in 4K in 2006 probably cost an arm and a leg, and then some. For all the reviews I’ve read throughout the years, Gothicmade has had the same criticism; it’s rather badly animated outside vast, spanning shots of the environment, it has pretty music and good voice acting, but action is very much lacking despite the detailed robot designs. The story is described something between trite and interesting, but ultimately dull. All this really shows in the trailers we’ve seen thus far as well, though most of them try to get around this and show the best bits.

Note how the trailer faps at the pretty robots by hammering home with the line How beautiful robot

There has been numerous theories why Gotchimade was kept in such a small team. Most often it’s assumed that Nagano doesn’t exactly like his works being adapted, after he was disappointed in the 1980’s movie adaptation of Five Star Stories, despite that movie has praised to heaven and back how beautiful it is. Incidentally, that movie will last the test of time better, as digital video dates itself extremely fast. Five Star Stories, for being on film, will ultimately find itself being remastered in higher resolutions as long as the original masters are intact, and even then magic can be made happen to up the quality. Unless Gothicmade‘s raw material is done on something that scaled at will, for example if everything was done with vectors. Somehow I doubt that. Five Star Stories was criticised to be pretty to look at, while light on story, but if we believe the reviews, Gothicmade fares no better, if not stumbling worse.

Then again, maybe Five Star Stories looks too detailed and overtly animated for its own good. Boatloads of cash and cocaine went into making these scenes, probably killing an animator or two. Nothing in Gothicmade‘s trailer comes even closer to this in terms of quality

Nagano probably is well aware of the criticism he has received from the viewers. I doubt any of that has affected his view on the work, as he has retconned Gothicmade as a major part of Five Star Stories comic, which some have found detrimental while others take it as a breath of fresh air, renewing the IP’s vigor. Part of me can’t help but wonder if Nagano is not willing to let his movie out of theatres because he knows of its value, or the lack of it, but wants to keep it as closely guarded secret as possible. Something that is kept limited from others has more perceived value after all, it makes people want it more. This of course ups the perceived value, and the holder of course gains more vertical value in eyes of others. This sort of thing can be seen on the Internet in various communities. Someone might have an image of a rare game and is refusing to share it, as that want adds value to the holders and others in the community. The same applies to scans and other materials, licensed, copyrighted or not. Perhaps Nagano knows that Gothicmade is rather lacklustre movie, but holding it at bay will keep its value up. Perhaps I’m blowing shit out as usual, maybe he really believes it to be a masterpiece and simply doesn’t want anyone to experience it the wrong way, though I am sure there would be licensing firms willing to simply sub the movie and have a limited run in local theatres or festivals.

Then again, Gothicmade‘s music and artwork has been released for home consumers with CDs, books, magazines, model kits and toys. Nagano is willing to license the work for other products, but home release is denied seven years after its initial debut. Hey, it gets asses into seats and apparently makes money that way, no reason to pay further distributors. You might argue that it’s not about the money, but it’s always about the money. Artists are just shit with finances by default and often won’t admit it or can’t even ask the proper sums before learning lack of finances the hard way. Does this serve the product itself to any significant extent? Perhaps it’s not about the movie experience. Considering how worshipping Nagano’s fans can get, perhaps Gothicmade would be best treated as some architectural painting you can’t see elsewhere but on the spot, a painting on the wall or a building itself. Something worth a mundane pilgrimage, or to be checked out when you’re around the neighbourhood.