Something new and the countering culture

For some time now, I’ve criticised companies for rehashing the same old IP and the same old stories for a new product. Ever since we got The Force Awakens‘ first trailer really, when I had a post how they’re effectively recycling concepts from the cutting floor. 2016’s Ghostbusters is an extreme example of this in many ways, where it was beat for beat remake of the original. Well, so was Force Awakens and that’s the problem really. At some point all these big franchises that we’re now getting remakes and sequels of and to were something new, something ground breaking even.

Star Wars was born from New Hollywood. It was counter culture, much like how American Graffiti was before it. It something new, something that wasn’t done at the time. The 1970’s America was rather drab places, marred with controversies about war and politics. New Hollywood wanted to move away from what the establishment was doing, and as it tends to be with counter culture, it won and became the new establishment down the line. Goerge Lucas might’ve hated Hollywood and wanted to do this own thing, but during the production of Empire Strikes Back, he became a Hollywood producer himself in practice, and ultimately Return of the Jedi was more of the same, just like The Force Awakens. You have the Vietnam War parallels even stronger, you have the Wookies in form of Ewoks in the movie Lucas wanted in the first movie, but couldn’t have, you have another Death Star and a daring run into it to blow it up. The Force Awakens might “rhyme” with A New Hope, but it’s the second movie to do so in the franchise. It might be what people expected more, at first, but it’s also the deathknell of a franchise. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. Franchises that keep revisiting and recycling are stale, and the revenues will diminish as more of their audience will turn away.

Star Wars as a franchise is the primary example of this, because it has revisited its stories so many times already. Rogue One was about getting the plans for the Death Star, something people who read the comics, books and played the games already had seen three times already, and it is something that had bled into the popular culture through osmosis. There is a trilogy of books of Han Solo’s childhood and backstory, a series of books that’s superior in every respect what the Solo movie was, despite it lifting elements from said books. In principle Disney made the right decision to purge the old Expanded Universe, as much as that made people disappointed, but what they proceeded to do was nothing new. They began to re-introduce old characters into the new canon, like Thrawn, rather than taking this chance and completely recreate something new. Disney, in effect, took the most popular pieces and simply made marketable works out of them. The short term revenues will be there, but will damage the brand and the franchise on the long run, just like The Force Awakens and the movies following it have done to Star Wars overall. You either have to be new to popular culture to consider The Force Awakens something new, or be a child who has no experience with culture at large yet.

That is an argument with some, that recycling stories for children is nothing new and older people should already grow up or move along. That’s a weak argument. Children more often than not will be entertained by something their parents are heavily invested in, that’s normal generational behaviour. New children’s franchises are successful and popular because they’re new a tailor made for that generation, be it either through tools or paradigms governing a given era. Repeated creation of the same ol’ thing without adding anything new to it will not create new content. It might be good business, especially if you have lots of IPs under your belt that you can reuse and recycle years on end, yet you will come to a point where that’s all the business will be. A competitor that innovates and puts out something new, creating paradigm shifts and shaking the industry standards, that’s where the money is in the long run.

The game business is not exactly analogous with Hollwyood. In Hollywood, things like Ghostbusters 2016 might fly in theory, and in practice fail simply because Hollywood can’t think anything new by itself. Hollwyood has a problem of thinking one-way and nothing else can enter its sphere. Hollwyood as a problem in diversity of thought, if we’re completely honest. You often see big movies like The Last Jedi including something about how capitalism is bad and evil, despite being the most capitalist engines on the planet with lots of gravy of nepotism. Woes is the world and its poor nations when big titles have larger budgets than some nation’s GDP. Hollywood has no touch with the general public or the world at large, it’s an insulated bubble that’s sold on one thing at a time and it shows in the movies. It’s no wonder China has become the main stage, when they’re making movies the general audiences don’t really care for. Certainly one-time event movies will make big bucks, like Avengers: End Game and The Force Awakens, but that works only once or twice. After that you have to introduce something new, something of high quality, something that shows We can do better, we can deliver superior produce. All big movie franchises have failed in this. More often than not, when things fail, the fans are called to be at fault, that their expectations and voices ruin movies and TV-shows, despite these people only hearing everything after the fact.

Look at Star Trek for another example. The nuTrek, the branch-off J.J. Abrams put out, are not Star Trek in its core element. However, because they effectively failed to captivate the audience and the fourth movie is on the chopping block, seeing nobody wants to fund the fourth movie, you got Discovery. If Star Trek Discovery had been affected by the fan reactions and backlash from the Abrams’ movies, it would have been very different show, more akin to The Next Generation if nothing else. Rather, the powers that be decided to make whatever the hell they wanted, and only after the reactions from the audience you began getting all those news pieces how toxic a fandom is and the like. Hollywood doesn’t care whether or not they make films and shows that are faithful to the franchise, or even well written. There are only few people who want to make movies for the sake of making movies, and people who want to produce something of actual worth. These people are going against the Hollywood grain.

Video games are a bit different as they are not just something you consume passively. You can drop an hour or two into a movie or a TV-show, watch something part of your streaming service or once in a whole buy a ticket or a disc from the store. There’s not much investment into a movie, it doesn’t take much of your attention or time. A game does, and a game requires something from the player in regards of skill and participation. Sequels and remakes to games are expected to expand on the play of the game more than on the story. Games that don’t do this languish and die out. Look at the New Super Mario Bros. series of games as an example. Massive first success with the DS title, the first 2D Mario game in years, and after that the series does nothing with it. Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 are great examples of game sequels that expanded everything about the predecessors. The Japanese SMB2 didn’t and it’s best left as Lost Levels, as it really is a great example of a lacking sequel.

Games like Resident Evil 2 Remake and Final Fantasy VII Remake are hitting the nostalgia boner people have. Nostalgia is extremely easy way to make money, especially with IP and franchises that are still running and popular. They’re safe for busainess due existing fanbase, there’s not much PR that company has to do to be a hit. At least that first few times. REmake2 and 3 only work this one time, and Capcom can’t go on remaking titles like this down the line. At a point customers, even new ones, will ask if this is all.

Popular culture, and culture overall, thrives when something of new worth is added to it. Star Wars originally was an amalgamation of ideas that Lucas had met before that point. Star Wars wasn’t a ripoff or copy of something, but an amalgamation of multiple aspects into one new whole. We haven’t seen this happening for some time now. Rather than having something new on the table, existing concepts are reused and recycled. Marvel movies, Disney Star Wars, 2016 Ghostbusters, that new Charlie’s Angels, New Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil remakes, Final Fantasy VIII Remake, four last Terminator films and so on are all creatively and conceptually bankrupt. None of them have added to the cultural scape what their predecessors did. They are hollow cases, filled with content that will taste sweet for a moment and rot away fast.

Something like original Resident Evil or Star Wars doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It needs someone to say I want to create something of my own and do it. Creativity doesn’t just happen, you have to work for it. You make your own environ and the sources of inspirations. You can’t make a great Star Wars movie if you only grew up with the media and culture surrounding it. You have to read into the world mythos and philosophy, watch old movie serials and films from different cultures, understand core concepts of human psychology if you are to make something that would be like the first Star Wars. If you only understand a story, be it a film, a game, a visual novel, comic or anything else, on its own, you don’t truly understand it all.

Action that drives the narrative

The more scholar video video games consumers out there have often argued to my face that the games are at their best when they are driven by a narrative, that games need to grow from their infantile state to something more whole and unique, to more mature a form to take part among other fully formed media like film and literature. Reading through some comments left on numerous Youtube videos on Death Stranding reminded me how little consumers think of video games, especially its main audience. Yes, reading through ‘tube comments is about as recommended task as licking a malaria ridden opossum, but sometimes curiosity takes wins over sense.

In all seriousness, it’s no surprise that consumers use theories and practices used in film and literature theory when discussing video game storytelling. This is understandable to an extent, as they are considered higher in the hierarchy of studies over game and play studies, topics which people who work with children have to be relatively familiar with. When we discuss story driven games with children, we are talking about a directed play, where play is directed and told through a story. The story in itself is important only as a setting, something to facilitate the actual intention and core of the game; the play. The narrative however can not advance if the play is not advanced. It’s not unusual for the story to changed due to how the children may play the parts differently from the intended directed play, but that’s business as usual. This isn’t a theatrical play, but a children’s game.

Video games still don’t have dynamic storytelling implemented in them, not in a way where moment to moment decision could directly affect the whole flow the game to wholly different results. For example, you can’t decide to just walk out on the mission for the water purifying chip, that is your set mission and frame you are intended to play in. You have a limited map you can’t escape and certain set role. This is the exact same as in a game of football (your choice, soccer or handegg) where the player is set to play with certain rules. Both the player of football and Fallout must adhere to the set rules. Both can cheat by breaking the rules, though in both cases other would frown on the action, and in case of the football player, he would get a penalty of sorts.

Both games also work in a similar framework of a story. For the football player, it is all the history him and his team alongside the history of his opponents. That is their lives stories all in all. It is truly dynamic and is told bit by bit, injury by injury. Fallout may have a pre-made framing with its story, but neither story can move forwards if there is inaction; the only way a game’s narrative can progress if there is action on the player’s part. If players don’t play, there is no forward motion in the game. The story stands still. The true narrative that moves game forwards, video game or otherwise, is active narrative.

What I mean with active narrative is of course the interaction the user must have and the intention through that action. Pressing buttons in itself is no action of playing, but the meaning behind it is. It is vital, perhaps the most important part, as there is no game that is passive. There must always be a participant to take action and follow readily laid out rules. The opposite of this would be passive narrative, something we practice when we read or watch something. We can’t participate in this narrative, it is readily there and can not be shifted. There is no rules to play according to. The narration of text or video moves along without their consumer. The story of Super Mario Bros. is about a plumber from Brooklyn saving the princess, but the narrative never moves on without the player deciding how the plumber saves the princess. Will he avoid most dangers, or will he attack every possible enemy? Will he come out rich from collecting all the coins, or will he ignore them? How fast he will run through the Worlds, or will he take a more careful pace and just walk along? All these decisions are what makes a game’s active narrative, and it is always dynamic simply because rules of play within a game always allow some variation how game is tackled, often coloured by the player itself.

Fighting games are probably the simplest example of this. There is a tournament and a final boss. Who won the tournament and in what order? The order that playthrough time showcased. There might be ‘official’ story set, but more of then than not that sort of detail is an afterthought. Street Fighter used to handle this in a clever fashion, where each game were in continuity, but not necessarily the way each game set themselves. The story, the little most fighting games had in the 1990’s, was there to facilitate the framing. Guilty Gear XX, or rather its later revisions, handled Story mode in a clever fashion, where paths would change depending how player won or which moves he used. This is completely the opposite to Guilty Gear Xrd, all of which tell their story in a form of a movie. Technically speaking, the game portion of Guilty Gear Xrd has no story, but there is a story that gives enough set-up for the play. Like an example I used years ago, only games could make walking vast distances with nothing in-between interesting because it is action that drives the game and its narrative. Death Stranding, from everything we’ve seen thus far, embodies this the best. Well, next to Desert Bus.

A game requires active narrative. Without one, it ends up being something else, either a film or work of literature. Visual Novels are somewhere between these, it is its own form of media. The fact that the framing has grown more important than the actual sections that drive the narrative is rather strange, but that might just be technological limitations we have now, but also the intentions. Games, as they largely are now, are equivalent of directed play, just without the possibility of real dynamic story. That might be limitations in technology, or just that such video game would be incredibly difficult to design and develop. It is much easier to set a framed structure that gives the player a set-up to play in and motivation to drive them with, like Save the princess.  The rest, hopefully the majority, is all about the story the player carves himself. That is the pull games have over films; the player is the driving force, the necessary element in active narrative.

Music of the Month; P-O-L-O-N

For some weeks now I’ve been trying to tackle how would I write about the death of one Hideo Azuma. He was a major force in the Japanese comic industry during his golden ages in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He worked alongside with such giants as Monkey Punch of Lupin the 3rd from very early on. His humorous gag comics made him relatively popular, and he increased his following by making science fiction comics in the mid-70’s. Azuma is credit for the first mainstream lolicon work Umi Kara Kita Kikai or The Machine that Came from the Sea. This is the kind of classical lolicon I described in a previous post (I highly recommend reading the linked post for context), not the twisted understanding world has now. Azuma’s works became increasingly erotic in nature, and could be said to be one of the forerunners of the styles and themes that coloured the 1980’s Japanese pop-culture, starting with the late 1970’s doujinshi series Cybele, culminating in motifs found if magazines like Manga Burikko and Comic Lemon People. When Osamu Tezuka created Prime Rosehe stated that there was only one person he considered to be his rival and equal to beat in both themes and visuals, and that was Hideo Azuma. He was already a household name, but with his 1977 comic Ochamegami Monogatari Korokoro Polon already having a TV-adaptation, the effect Azuma had on both media and otaku culture in the 1980’s should not be underestimated, he had become a giant.

Azuma’s increasingly larger workload from the past twenty odd years and larger amount of works in numerous big name magazines would cause him to fall into alcoholism and neglect, ultimately making him simply vanish from his work and home for months end, sometimes over a year, with at least one attempted suicide. During these excursions he would live as a homeless man, finding food wherever he could, sometimes finding an odd job he would take to make some kind of living. Ultimately he would be forced into an alcohol rehab centre. Azuma would create a semi-fictional biography of this time with Disappearance Diary, the only work of his that has been translated in English. Some European countries would see the aforementioned Pollon and Azuma’s most famous work, Nanako SOS, localised, but the rest of his library of works has yet to be officially translated. I warmly, and strongly, recommend picking up Disappearance Diary and give it a good read. It should still be available, as the book got reprinted few times over.

Hideo Azuma continued working with comics, never stopping to draw a new comic. The last pages he ever draw were done on his deathbed, the two last pages on a manuscript that probably will never be published. He died of esophageal cancer at age of 69 in October 13th. He had been treated for it for some before, but ultimately there was very little that could be done at the stage the cancer was in.

Hideo Azuma’s works could be described to he humorous, but that’d be disservice. He has a lot of gag comics under his belt, just as he has numerous erotica, science fiction, fantasy and slice-of-life published. He wasn’t limited by one genre, though during the 2000’s and 2010’s people would call his work moe, a term Azuma himself disliked, feeling that would box him into a unnecessarily small range. It could be argued his works paved the way to modern moe, but that would be disservice. His storytelling ranged from very clear cut and straight, like the aforementioned award winning Disappearance Diary, to something that’s almost like a dream, with landscapes and characters floating through the story as if the pages weren’t really there.

This short concept video shows so much of Azuma’s style and looks, but also slightly touches on other works his was inspired by. There is also footage of him working on an illustration, which in itself is a small marvel

Azuma should be considered among the giants of the industry alongside other of his contemporaries. His works may be largely unknown in the West due to the modern stigma on his 1980’s productions, yet the aftershocks can be seen in the current generation of cute comics and shows. Not even the expanded edition of Disappearance Diary has made its way to the Western markets. With the current market, and how most consumers of Japanese comics tend to be on the adult side, Hideo Azuma’s works might find its market. That said, if Tezuka’s works have a hard time making it through the layers, there’s very little chances a publisher will take a chance with Azuma’s work that isn’t an award winner. There are numerous recommended collections of Azuma’s works that shouldn’t take too much effort to publish, but I’m guessing a Western publisher might want to revise some of the covers.

To tell you the truth, I can not do justice to Hideo Azuma’s life and work. It is so expansive and filled with detail I can’t even begin to scratch, as I’ve always put getting into his works aside every time something else has popped up. It’s as if I am too late now, and though becoming a fan of works after author’s death is nothing new to me. This, however, is a case where I’ve consciously been eyeing Hideo Azuma on the sidelines for several years, waiting that best of times for me to jump all in. That of course never came, and perhaps that’s what I learned from him, and from his Disappearance Diary; you have to make it yourself, nothing will wait for you.

To quote someone who knew him better; Rest in peace, king of lolicon.

The creator doesn’t matter, but the creator matters

One of the tenants this blog upholds is that The creator doesn’t matter, meaning that the consumer should not concern themselves over the product’s creator as long as the quality is up to standards. While we can only hope to fight brand loyalty, or even recognise we’re leashed by one, we nevertheless willingly recognise that as consumer we are willing to make illogical and outright stupid decision in regards of purchases as long as it is something we value. Like anything from a company that hasn’t produced anything noteworthy since 2007 or thirty years old comic books that would land you in jail in due to dated contents. Of course, the value may not be just on the product, but the prestige it delivers either vertically or horizontally, that our peers value these purchases in equal amount. It really sounds like bran loyalty ultimately is kind of secret dick measuring contest, sometimes a bit too practically.

Company products are always easy to see as mass of pieces anyone can produce, despite so many times a face is attached to certain brand or franchise for obvious reasons. Video game producers and directors are of course one of the best examples of this, as they have a full team underneath them, and in reality is that the actual work is done almost everyone else. It’s like having a model claiming the work for a painting. Overtly simplified and harshly reduced, but that needs to be done sometimes. Then again, as long as there is a clear models and blue prints how a game is designed and build, something like how a Super Mario Bros. or Metal Gear game works, others can easily surpass previous entries. This has happened time and time again with games, films, comics and so on, which really is the core where the take The creator doesn’t matter stems. While it would be a bit overzealous to claim “anyone could do it,” the reality is that anyone can’t really do it without proper experience, training, know-how and skills. All these can be attained, and sometimes it is worth getting someone with different sets of skills and experiences in order to gain a more improved product. I’m sure you can quote a story or two, or a game or three, where change of developer team, director or perhaps even company altogether resulted in a superior game in your opinion.

Within certain creative fields it isn’t rare to see people hired to replicate a style of visuals and/or writing. China, for example, is brimming with people who just plagiarise classic works for pay as close as possible. It’s pretty huge business. Asian countries overall seem to favour studying the visual arts via copying works of art, which then helps people to spin off to their own direction. This is rather apparent with Japanese comic industry, where assistants learn the ropes and ways to work from their boss, and often end up visually similar style before they begin to develop further. Sometimes they don’t. Of course, we have people who write, draw, colour, letter and do their whole comics themselves. Stan Sakai of Usagi Yojimbo fame is one of them, doing everything himself from the start, something the likes of Stan Lee were surprised and appreciated like no other. Don Rosa is another, though he is far more a victim of how Disney runs their comic business. Disney themselves has never produced comics as-is, they’ve always had some other company under the produce them for themselves. They’ve got companies for different markets, like Egmont that handles parts of Europe.

A competent illustrator/writer combo/individual could replicate either aforementioned man’s work just fine. In actuality it wouldn’t be the same, but at least the spirit of the work should be. Depending. It might end up being rather terrible, but the way images are drawn and stories told might be on the spot, but it might still end up being terrible for bad story overall or other factors. Hardcore fans might crucify such works, but as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has shown multiple times during its comic runs, people can make the core justice, even if it isn’t the same. Hell, that argument should apply to Don Rosa as well. Nevertheless, the point still stands; a creator can be replaced, it just matters with whom and what the results will be.

That’s half of but the creator matters from the title. The other half really is that despite the consumer shouldn’t need to concern himself with the creator (after all, the product should always be the best it could be [fat chance it ever being though]) the whole brand/creator loyalty thing aside, the industries and providers themselves really should care about them, but not in the manner the consumer does. To use Don Rosa further as an example, he is one of those comic creators who was, and still is, massively popular in Europe. He is known as the only true heir to Carl Bark’s legacy regarding Disney Duck comics, for his detailed and heavily worked illustrations, as well as incredibly well written stories standing atop historical accuracy and Bark’s legacy in comics. You’d imagine him and his works were treated like golden goose, a money printing machine, which they seemingly are considering Rosa’s Duck works constantly get reprinted. However, one of the many reasons why Rosa quit drawing in 2008, other being his heavily damaged vision, is because the comic industry, especially if you have to deal with anything with Disney, tends to fuck you in the ass. In his Don Rosa Collection Epilogue from 2013, Rosa tells how badly he has been treated by pretty much all the companies he has ever worked with regarding the Duck comics. His works gets published without permission, his name got abused without his consent to the point he had to trademark his name to prevent such thing, the sheer lousy money he was being paid per-page, a system as archaic that Carl Barks worked under it since the 1950’s and of course the stress all of it brought. Imagine if a musician would be paid per note or something, and the moment he gives the song to be pressed, he loses all rights to it and would never see a dime from further releases or any royalties from radio plays and the like. An archaic system like this, with work-for-hire and losing everything you do for the company, is one of the reasons why the Image team Marvel in 1990’s to form their own comic studios. We are talking about people not even getting their original comic pages back from the prints. If the editors felt like something would’ve been better changed, the author most likely found out only when he bought the magazine himself from the comic stand.

For a long a long time the creative industries have been struggling with the problem of giving the creators the respect they deserve as people who have made the products themselves, as people who have been the ones to rake in the money, and as people who work as the faces of these products and companies. It’s easy to say that it’s all the businessmen in the suits doing that, thinking only about money, which never really hits the nail properly. Creators themselves downplay other people they work with, their egos clashing and sometimes even running companies and businesses down to a rut. More often than not these artsy creators find themselves facing the reality of business themselves on the long, with George Lucas with the success of Star Wars facing completely new mind-shattering business decision during The Empire Strikes Back‘s filming and development, and Todd McFarlane becoming a hypocrite for not giving visiting creators the rights to the characters they created or respect over them, a thing that got him to leave Marvel. The rosy image of creators being oppressed by businessmen is apt only, after which the creators become oppressors themselves, or oppress other creators in the same house in various manners. Freelancers, despite having one helluva weight on their back, may be happier not being marred with built-in hell. Nevertheless, the least these could get, anyone in any given industry really, is respect from their peers and people they work for. The customer shouldn’t care, but too many times we have to ask if we want to pay for a product from a company who fucks with its consumers and own creators.

The death of history comes when nobody is there to remember it

The title might sound like a bullshit sentiment, and it kind of is. Mostly because that is a personal point of view as someone who was a history buff in his teens. With the Internet’s sub-cultures still reeling on the loss of sadpanda, and that site-wide mirror being more or less a confirmed hoax at this point, it really made me think back how little we value history and its artifacts. Are you saying bunch of porn counts as historical artifacts? Very much so, especially if its older than decade or so. While most people will get stuck on the whole porn issue and what sort of porn it might’ve been, the same people don’t seem to consider what sort of sociological statements those pictures were making. For example, the much discussed (for better or worse) lolicon has gone through numerous iterations since the movement surfaced in Japan in the 1970’s. You can see its effects everywhere in the media in completely standard and normal ways, like Captain Harlock having having Mayu as a level of plot device, one of the reasons why Harlock still protects Earth from its inner deceit and alien threats. While Harlock could have numerous reasons, a character like this was surely influenced by the pop-cultural scene of the time. Similar things can be found in many other works in the era, culminating with Cybele Vol.1 seeing its Comiket publishing in 1979, and probably pushing itself to the mainstream popular culture with Comic Lemon People first issue hitting the magazine stands for all to buy in 1982. This magazine had such impact that modern Japanese popular culture wouldn’t exist without it in its current form.

Think what you may, White Cybele has a very classy cover

Much like everything in history, things are complicated. It is disingenuous to say that it is sexual objectification of children, but that’s what many seem to go to first. What lolicon was in the 1970’s and 1980’s was effectively what people understand with modern moe; the use of cute, young characters within works. Discussion during these eras were about affection towards these characters, and their desires. That must be emphasized; characters. By definition, a real person does not step into the equation. The age range of these characters was not defined either, like it is nowadays. These characters could be almost anything, as long as the visual style represented the idea of these cute, somewhat innocent characters and their visuals. The culture of cute is a very much a large component here, and with the 1960’s and 1970’s producing a generation that grew up on modern cartoons and comics in post-World War II Japan, it was more or less natural growth in terms of cultural landscape. Within this cultural scape, a lolicon wasn’t someone who had predatory tendencies towards children or pedophilia in any form; it refers for a preference for a certain style and look of the character. In many ways, the term moe has superseded lolicon as it carries largely the same connotation of cute characters. The historical background is largely the same, and even the marketing is similar. The term is simply more politically correct, perhaps to distance itself from how people consider lolicon to be only porn. I should also mention shotacon, which is more associated with female fans; the admiration of similarly cute, beautiful young men and boys. However, this term too is nowadays marred with its sexual connotations.

To put emphasize again; what determines these in the 1970’s and 1980’s is aesthetics. Young, cute looking characters that are the object of fan affection. As you’ve probably surmised, the Western use for the term is very different and based on different historical and cultural background, and partially reliant on intentional misinterpretation.

This is all terrible condensed, and needs its own proper post before I even attempt to cover the best years of Comic Lemon People, but one thing should be clear to most of my readers; the above isn’t exactly what what the Global, especially the Western, consensus is on the topic. We are talking about one nation’s rather major movement in popular culture history, which has been marred needlessly. Without reading around, listening to the people from the era from that specific place, reading and listening to first and second hand sources, you might think that pedophilia and lolicon are the same thing. In fact, they vehemently different; they are both qualitatively and fundamentally two different things. Drawn picture is not the same thing as a real person, or a photo of a real person.

Let’s assume we have lost fan made works from the 1970’s and 1980’s from the Internet and we can’t obtain physical copies anymore. The people who lived during that era are now dead and we can’t have their recollection from the era nor is there any properly documented interviews from them. Without first hand accounts, we can only rely on accounts that might or might not be correct. Writers may have an agenda and paint the movement in black colours, demonizing it to hell and back. Some sources might not even be in the same language as the target topic, misunderstanding major elements. Works that use sources that intentionally colour history is not uncommon, as history is full of propaganda. Be it political, religious or whatever, any and all events in history has different sides seeing different things. It’s like people watching a die from six different sides; they all see a different number. What we need to do is view that die from all angles and understand them for the whole picture.

LUM IS OVER is probably the best example of cross-cut of numerous creators from 1987 collaborating around Lum, with over thirty individuals pouring their affection in pin-ups and illustrations

It is not a secret that lolicon had a sexual element to it, but frankly everything has. It simply has been blown out of its proper proportions, probably because how influential Comic Lemon People was in the mainstream. Nobody seems to consider the 1970’s boy and girl characters as a result of this movement in itself, unless somebody directly mentions that shotacon was named after Tetsujin #28‘s main character, and that show had its inception in the sixties. Despite Elpeo Ple is cited as Gundam‘s household loli character (after all, she was named after Comic Lemon People, Kikka Kobayashi already was around in the first series. Hell, even Fraw Bow counts despite the character’s older age, but she still maintains that cute charm around her compared to most other female characters in the show. Don’t forget that Lum of Urusei Yatsura is considered the first real anime and manga sex symbol, and she is very much part of the lolicon culture of its era. Aalt, she’s too old for that. No, she’s the perfect age, because remember; it is about aesthetics of cuteness. Cuteness and sexiness do no exclude each other, as much as certain cultures think otherwise. Lum’s roundness, alluring eyes and soft body was in many ways first of its kind, trailblazing path to modern shoujo and even styles, where eyes got rounder and cuter with the time.

It’s not even Comic Lemon People that made its wake. While Lemon People might the one that’s on the tongue of most Westerners when talking about lolicon serial comics, Manga Burikko was its direct rival. Not only did it coin the term otaku, but its main editor Ouzuke Eiji wanted to produce shoujo manga, or girls’ comics, for boys. He called this New-Wave shoujo manga. His influence, as well as the whole era’s, is vividly felt in the 1990’s shows. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon is probably the most prominent example of this alongside Magic Knight Rayearth. In truth, the whole movement was well under within animation and comic industry in Japan in the mid-1970’s with Majokko Megu-chan being an early magical girl show that was prominently aimed at boys, much like Cutie Honey ended up being. By the 1990’s, lolicon as a style and aesthetics had become the mainstream visual flavour and style. This continues to this day, hence why moe was needed to surface as a specific and direct continuation. Historically speaking, lolicon and bishoujo fell under the same overall umbrella, with both having some differences but exactly the same aim in visuals.

I had two covers to choose from for Manga Burikko my archives, and this was the one that most wouldn’t find all that objectionable

It wasn’t just these two aforementioned comics; lolicon and loli was quite honestly everywhere with major companies and major magazines advertising and selling products proudly labeling their products with lolicon. This wasn’t about the porn, but again the style. Major players like Uchiyama Aki were publishing in standard comic magazines aimed at both boys and girls all the while he was working on adult magazines. He was publishing clearly labelled lolicon comic in same magazine as Ozaku Tezuka, and they were both doing characters that fit the same exact aesthetic description.

As you’ve probably surmised, lolita complex in Japan is very, very different from what it is considered as in North America and Europe. However, that definition crept into Japanese mindset as well in the late 1980’s and was more or less set in stone in the 1990’s, when the term mostly vanished from the common use. Perhaps the most commonly cited incident that put a negative tone on the term and its proper surroundings is Tsutomu Miyazaki kidnappings, where he kidnapped young girls, murdered them and not just raped their corpses, but also ate them. Moral panic is caused by lesser things, though Tokyo High Court ruled that he acted on his sexual fantasies rather, which of course was directly linked to his hobby as an otaku. The cultural backlash was understandable, but perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Discussion about loli and lolicon in Japanese context, in even Japan, does not consider its proper place as a mainstream style and only applies the bastardised understanding of it, partly influenced by the Western misconceptions, party by the intentional obfuscation and and partly by sheer misunderstanding. It is no wonder the term has different application nowadays, even when the whole modern Japanese comic and cartoon culture stemmed from it.

You may argue that language changes and whatever arguments for non-sexual use for loli or lolicon once existed doesn’t matter. Language may change, but its historical context should not. To use an example, the Finnish word neekeri is a direct loanword of nigger, but it had none of the negative connotations to it until the American negative connotations were associated with it. Before that, it was another normal way to name black people. However, with new generations fretting the term and its origin, censorship has forced books to remove the term and even candies change name. There is a chocolate pastry filled with cream that used to be called Nigger’s Kiss, but nowadays it has removed all branding from this and renamed itself as Brunberg’s Kiss. The past generations have demonized what was harmless word and such it is viewed as one, even in its proper historical context.

The point really being that I was making is if we lose first-hand information sources, we might as well rely on hearsay. However, when a historian has first hand information, recollections from an era from an independent person, it is a treasure of information that can be compared and contrasted to what is known from the era either from other first-hand sources or official records. However, when it comes to popular culture movements and events, official records are always dubious at best, unreliable at worst. That is why a place like sadpanda was such a treasure trove, because it contained not only author’s own works from forty years ago, but also serial comic magazines and self-published works, filled with fanart, letters, opinion pieces and news on politics and events that affected the pop-culture of the time. These sources are imperative to understand not just the lolicon scene we’ve been talking about, but the whole comic and animation culture of the time. That is only one view point, reading newspaper magazines and other sources is as important as well. Thus, losing one of them, any of them, will impact on how later generations are able to understand history. History just doesn’t happen; it a never ending movement forward. Most of what I’ve said about in this post has been by going through era specific first and second hand sources, some of which were on sadpanda.

Human history is fragmented at best. At worst, it is a puzzle that has lost an amount of its pieces. We should aim to keep every bit of history safe, even if we object to them. A statue of a South State’s general should be left as it is, to remind people that there is history and that it is a complex mess of human actions and perspectives. We should not allow destruction of any kind of resource, statue, book or whatnot, to be destroyed simply because it might offend sensibilities or it simply doesn’t fit modern culture. The moment humanity decides to ignore this in favour of some sort of one truth above all, history creeps toward its death. History is a tapestry painted with fine tipped brushes of endless shades, not with broad bristles in primary colours. Those who forget history are bound to repeat it may be an old saying, but it is a saying that will get repeated down the line, if people continue to be Brutus to history’s Caesar.

Compete with two similar products, not with one same

Some time ago I read an article about why video streaming platforms like Netflix will go by the way of the Dodo soon some time ago. The main argument was IP and copyrights and how they strangle the system. Not in the way you’d think, but because they allow companies to have a monopoly over a single show and not allow it to spread around to other streaming services. This supposedly leads into a position the monopoly over a show leads into an unfair competition as other platforms don’t have the tool to compete, the same show. I wish I could remember where I read this, because its so goddamn dumb. I have to wonder at what point we dipped over that consumers think two different platforms can’t compete with each other unless they have the same product in the lineup. That is nothing less than misunderstanding how two competing companies compete with their products. This to stay relevant to the blog, we’re of course going to use games as an example.

Super Nintendo and the Mega Drive competed each other just fine without largely sharing the same library. While the SNES dedicated itself to be a role playing machine alongside other games with slower pace, MD was more about the arcade action, all the while PC Engine had loads of shooters and B-Tier action games. Despite their preference in genres being rather clear, especially in the US, where MD had a sort of infamy for sports games among certain circles, the three consoles did compete directly with different entries in the same genres. Sega had Alexx Kidd to counter Super Mario Bros. before Sonic the Hedgehog was around the corner, and PC Engine had titles like Shubibinman and Valis, though Valis is more known for its Mega Drive entry in the Overseas market. Nevertheless, the series’ halcyon days were on the PCE. All these offer a different kind of platforming experience with their own flavour of style and approach, with varying degrees of success.

On the RPG side, Sega had its Phantasy Star and Shining series of games, with Koei bringing its Uncharted Waters series to the table. PC Engine had Cosmic Fantasy, Cadash, Vasteel and such, though Far East of Eden was first largely a PC Engine game before it jumped the ship when PC Engine effectively died. SNES had its fair share of RPG most already know, ranging from Dragon Quest to Final Fantasy.

The point I’m trying to make with all that is that streaming services aren’t dying because one service has a monopoly over a show. While it is true that people don’t really want to subscribe to a service just because it has one or two shows they’d like to watch, and seemingly have gotten used to the idea of everything being one place, these companies compete with each other with their unique libraries and takes on the same base concepts. Any station or streaming service could have tackled Game of Thrones with their own high-budget, semi-realistic adult fantasy epic if they had chosen to do so. None of them even seemingly attempted this. The same can be said for Star Trek Discovery, though The Orville was its direct competitor, and by all means, did get far better reception and is the show with superior writing. Star Trek Discovery currently stands as the show with the stupidest writing among all shows we have now, which doesn’t exactly spell promising future for the upcoming Picard series, especially now that Amazon picked it up after Netflix supposedly doesn’t want anything to do with modern Star Trek. I can’t blame them.

Back when The Addams Family debuted in 1964 on ABC, it was followed by The Munsters six days later on a rivaling network CBS. It is often mentioned that Bewitched first aired at the same time as well, though on ABC. While this sort of pace of production probably will never be matched nowadays, shows also have longer pre-production and hype period before they ever come out should make it easy for different channels and streaming service to put up their competing shows. While The Munsters enjoyed better ratings, it has been criticised for relying more on elaborate make-up and special effects over creative writing and show content. Perhaps that why The Addams family has stuck harder to the global pop-cultural schema while The Munsters hasn’t seen as much growth or appreciation, despite that relaunch attempt with Mockingbird Lane, a serious horror take on the series, which got less than appreciative reception.

Two different providers rarely compete with each other with the same product; they compete with two products that offer the same baseline consumer experience. This is why console business has become more twisted, as both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 offer largely the exact same baseline experience with all the multiplatform games, which means most of the third party companies don’t really care which one might succeed more over the other. Well, unless the first party games manage to install a large userbase, then the third parties will follow in-suit. All the generation winning consoles had the largest library of games exclusive to them.

While television (streaming is just modern television) and gaming are two different kinds of medium and forms of entertainment, the comparison is still apt. A monopoly over a single product is not a problem in itself, as long as the product is not one single, all-encompassing product that allows no other to enter the market. That’d be true monopoly then. We can make jokes about Microsoft and Windows all we want now, but that’s effectively what people who wish there would be only one console, one streaming service or one provider for anything really. No company will be altruistic if they have the whole market in their hands, they will take as much control as possible and squeeze. Much like how Disney is doing by amassing larger and larger amount of media property and companies under their belt. Disney is already the largest media empire we have, and if things continue to move to this direction, we are going to end up with few extremely large corporations controlling the media landscape.

However, Disney still has competition with Warner-Brothers. Perhaps the most relevant competition is their Looney Tunes against Disney’s Merry Melodies, or in modern era, DC vs Marvel. Two isn’t exactly a healthy market and there are more comic labels out there, like Dynamite, but the Big Two are most well known across the world. It is far from a healthy market still, and the competition is questionable at best at times. On silver screen however, Disney has taken the lead in the Superhero movie department with better quality scripts, though the future can be questioned.

While these corporations have ownership over whatever they are legally owned, nothing can keep from other companies or individuals using these materials as a source of inspiration and create something to compete. However, fans will always be willing to make fan games or fiction instead of creating something new and original. One of the many reasons why original homebrew and indie scenes can be very fresh places to visit occasionally due to new ideas propping often up, independent of the major providers. DL Site isn’t good just for porn, but for for wholesome new games and other content as well. Sometimes both.

No, streaming services aren’t going bust anytime soon because they can’t compete with the same show. However, if they are not able to provide a quality alternative, like how The Orville is to Star Trek Discovery, then that’s problem either in the creative lead department, mismanagement, or simply because that section of the consumers is not their target audience.

Battletoads is British Punk

I said I’d skip E3 this year and write nothing about it, but when something goes so wrong like Battletoads is being made into a modern Nickeledeon cartoon inspired style, something is really, really gone to the extreme wrong end. You know at what moment I got worried? Right from the start. Let’s just link the damn trailer and let’s continue from there.

 

Oh God. That’s chromatic aberration in the logo

Chromatic aberration is an error introduced by film in older animation and movies. In recent years it has made a resurgence in modern digital media as an effect, despite decades of work being done to eliminate it completely. Not only it looks distracting when overused, but its become a trope on its own already. It can be found almost everywhere and it almost never looks the part it was intended to. On top of that, it doesn’t help people with poorer eyesight or sight that gets crossed. It fucks ’em up even worse. Credit where credit is due, you can barely see it in the logo, but goddamn this leads into some hot neon pink shit I can already tell.

That’s a flipped double bird to the old guard in form of a fish

And this was the point where my first thought was They missed the cultural starting point for Battletoads and many of the fans will outright hate it. At this moment on the official Xbox Youtube video, it has 8,4k dislikes vs. 4,7k likes. However, what do I mean that the developers missed the cultural starting point with Battletoads? While everyone always touts and mentions how Battletoads is mostly a Teenage Mutant  Ninja Turtles knock-off with green skinned fighting frogs, the fact is that’s nothing unique. Late 1980’s and early-to-mid 1990’s saw numerous anthropomorphic animal mascots and franchises across the board, from Sonic the Hedgehog to The Mighty Ducks! and Bucky O’Hare. Biker Mice from Mars was pretty goddamn rad, and its Finnish dub made mediocre show into a masterpiece. It would be error to simply coincide Battletoads with its contemporaries just for convenience. TMNT might be seen as the starting point for the humanimal trend, but for Battletoads’ style, the roots are not across the pond, but in late 70’s and 80’s British pop- and punk-culture and tripzines.

Let’s use this Battletoads key art as a reference point. And oh, the main enemy mooks are goddamn punk rats

Much like many other NES game, Battletoads‘ art is amateurish, but at the same time so damn fine. It’s free, original and rough. Rough is the key here, as that serves as the main link to the tripzines. It might be rough looking, but that’s part of the charm. It’s not overly cute, is full of that early 90’s attitude and everyone’s pretty much colour coded how they’d appear in the game. The NES colour palette was limited, so designing character that in mind always helps. You can also tell the ‘toads apart from each other easily with little things like shades on Rash, dark eyeshade, belt and gloves on Zitz and Pimple just being bigass dude. Note how the names are part of the whole boys’ shock culture with their grossout names. All part of the charm.

The roughness of course comes from British cartoons like Danger Mouse and Count Duckula. This roughness is not exactly intended in itself, but unlike their American competitors, British animation houses had to work with tighter budgets and the end result often ended up being rougher than intended. This includes such shows as SuperTed as well, though at this point the Rare wasn’t bunch of kids anymore. Where the edge for Battletoads comes from are the numerous hard hitting tripzines, self-published comic strips analogous to Japanese doujinshi scene. UK Underground Comix! has numerous scanned copies, sometimes originals even. Some of them are rough, some of them are even great, and all of them are rowdy. Of course, I would be dismissive if I didn’t mention 2000 AD, the British science fiction comic from the British. Robo Magnus there in the middle, with its looming posture and metallic mask he wears.

Battletoads would fit with these guys just fine

I would also do a small crime against British comic publication if I didn’t mention The Beano, a Scottish children’s comic magazine that’s been running from 1938 to this very day. The Beano in many ways defined the British comic style for the century alongside with the aforementioned SF comic.

But of course, where would be in if we didn’t start with the royalty? The original Dark Queen was based on Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and it shows.

 

This being the UK, I bet having a small potshot at the royalty was there in the back of the head somewhere. The whole point of a design like this isn’t to objectify women, but rather give the dominant role over the ruled ones. The whole Dark Queen motif invites the ideas of things forbidden and evil pleasures. It’s a pretty generic but solid design, unlike her modern version.

And this one? This one looks like shit and here’s why; that it a dull outfit with a dull facial expression with dull colours. Sure, black suit isn’t exactly colourful in itself, yet it pops up better in a game that isn’t filled with pink and purple like the 2019 Battletoads’ trailer is. There’s nothing royal about her, she has no aura to rule with under that design. She looks more like some kind of communist general or a mad scientist than a Queen. To put it simply, this design has no power.

At least they kept her gloves.

Then again, the combat amphibians themselves don’t fare much better.

Hoo boy. Sure, the original Battletoads cast didn’t have the most dynamic idle stance, but Rash just standing there like some lanky bitch simply irritates. You’ll also notice that the ‘toads are of different colour than in the keyart above, and that’s because they went through colour changes until they set with these colours. Though why the hell they messed otherwise perfectly good designs to make them worse is anyone’s guess.

However, the visual history is of American comics and cartoons, which does not fit the already established visual style of the franchise. It goes to the opposite direction, choosing to be family safe and effectively disregards what the previous games wanted to convey. Killer Instinct may have brought Rash into 3D, but holy shit it shows respect towards the series and its spirit in every single way this new game doesn’t.

You know what makes this incarnation of a Battletoad so damn great? It’s fun and cartoony, its mischeavous, it showcases childish humour and yet its rough, raw and has edge to it. There are no flip flopping with a goddamn fish, what you get is massive fisting and spiky booting. There are actual spikes, not whatever shit green shit Pimple’s redesign has on its wrists and belt.

They also use flipped sprites in an era where memory should not be a goddamn problem. This is best seen with Zitz’s, the middle one’s, arm thingies

That’s all good Aalt, but Battletoads was always kiddy stuff. That’s what many may want to think, but the arcade Battletoads showcases what Rare would do if they had pretty much no limitations regarding censorship.

This game shows perhaps the best what sort of core Battletoads have in terms of visual themes. Visceral violence and hard hitting head bashing with nothing held back. You smash your enemies heads in, you cut them off with an Axe kick, you split them with a spiky slam or kick them off the screen as they scurry off. It’s everything your mother would hate in games that look like they’re for kids. All that is lacking from the new Battletoads game and that is why there is a large portion disliking it. Rather than looking and feeling like a Battletoads game, it looks like a cheap knock-off.

It’s also so goddamn purple. It’s more or less clear that the game is being made for the new retro audience rather than to the people who played the originals and have been rooting for a new game for few decades. And what we get? A game that looks, and I echo so many others, like a bad FLASH game.

Credit given where deserved, the graphics look slick  in their intended way, animation is pretty good and all that, but it doesn’t look the part. The gameplay looks like an incoherent mess with plastic, cartoony deformation everywhere. Of course, can’t say much about the game play without playing it first, but this being Xbox One exclusive means that chances are I’ll never play it.

It’s really pathetic a game this awaited, especially by its fans, ends up looking nothing like it should have. That is not say that a more cartoony version of a classic belt scrolling action game could work, it just needs to be made in the same spirit with some damn respect for the source material. Like Streets of Rage 4.

Canon obsession

If you’re a fan of some long series of books or comics, games or TV-show, chances are that you’ve partaken in discussion pertaining canon. That is, discussion (or more often than not, flamewar) of events that happened within a given fictional setting and how these events relate to each other. It is the nerdy version of two historians or otherwise more well-versed people discussing real world history in its proper context, perhaps even debating different points of views past scholars have made.

Let’s be honest here; canon is something that can and will change however the author, group of authors or the property owner wants at any any given point in time. It is completely malleable, everything that has been put on paper or on screen can be waved away for whatever reason given. Retroactive canon is nothing new to any enthusiastic follower of a given story with multiple entries throughout the years. Small events are changed here and there, additions and retractions. Larger stories become a mess due to constant additions. New stories set in different time frame contradict previous stories either directly or introducing stuff that wasn’t there before for no other reason but to inorganically tie this new story to the older. Then you have remakes breaking the older canon by introducing all this new stuff and supposedly fixing what was broken in the old. Unless the work in itself is completely finished and the author is resigned from changing it, no fictional story is ever set in stone.

Silly Aalt, we just didn’t know they existed before the story told us about them. I don’t play the canon game like that. They didn’t exist in the canon until they were retroactively inserted there. Discussing things as they happened is fine and dandy. However, ignoring the real world situation and events when something new and out of place is introduced, like the aforementioned relatives, the thing muddles. The authority of course will try to play things in order to placate the fans, or in some cases, the investors. This doesn’t remove the fact that something like Spock’s adopted sister in Star Trek Discovery was pulled out from their ass. At this point oh so many fans will point out different variations of canon, how TV and silver screen events are only true canon and numerous books, guides, comics and whatnot do not count. Though even then, what’s on those screens doesn’t add up all the time, and then they have to issue a magazine article or a book to cover their asses.

Sometimes changing canon can change the whole motif of the work. For Muv-Luv, if you take into account the later explanations how the dimension travel and branching timelines work outside the main body of work, you’ll find out that there are multiple continuities within the BETAverse continuity itself, making Takeru’s sacrifice all but meaningless for all those other continuities. Takeru didn’t end up saving that world at the end of Alternative because of the timeline retcons, just one version of it. The literary motif of a person going through groundhog day loop to save in the name of true love was effectively destroyed.

Is that headcanon I see? No, that’s common sense. I said I don’t play these games. The obsession toward canon strong enough for people to invent new terms and ways to deal with it, like headcanon, i.e. a personal interpretation of events. In the current era of personal feelings and opinions being the height of argument, yeah just go with it then.

Though to be serious, that’s another issue with the whole canon thing. Unless the events are made crystal clear with no ambiguity, you’re more or less asked to refer to a source material like some book, or in modern cases, wikis that just list everything under the sun. Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wikia, is special spectrum kind of levels on the details they list in each entry. Things like how Warp Factor’s speed changed between The Original Series of Star Trek and The Next Generation. Nobody makes a fuss about it on the show or even acknowledges it, but writers’ guides changed how the speeds were represented. In The Original Series, you could go past Warp 10 speeds, but in The Next Generation Warp 10 was maximum speed you could go. The Star Trek Magazine did recognize this and made it work, but that’s not from TV or movies, so according to owner rules, it ain’t canon. It just stays one of numerous discontinuities between the two shows, but we fans are very apt at making excuses for sloppy writing and changed rules on a whim. For all we really know, Warp 10 as the max speed would apply to The Original Series as well and anything that went over Warp 10 should be corrected proper.

Star Trek is the most overused and driest example anyone could use for a discussion about canon, but its so persistent in our global pop-culture that there’s nothing like it. We know Spock, Kirk, Picard and so on. It’s easy. Not so much with Star Wars, but that’s a whole another topic. The fandom is known for its religious level of knowledge of the show and everything surrounding it that it’s become a living joke in itself. A respected joke, but a joke nonetheless. A Trekkie or Trekker, same deal.

While I’m at it, Ex Astris Scientia has a good article on visual (dis)continuity between Star Trek productions. if you got few minutes to kill, give it a look out of interest.

That’s not being fair. No, it it isn’t. The whole deal isn’t fair to the consumer and fans overall, and yet there is this obsession on canon, on what really happened. Well nothing really happened, but the question I always ask Why can’t we treat these as their own stories? What is it that makes fans so keen on sticking to canon? I really don’t know, and I doubt anyone has a wholly satisfying answer to give. Perhaps its the fact that these stories we love are modern myths and legends, that we find something to love and shower ourselves with the how interesting the world and its characters are. We want to know more about all of it and how it all works together as wholesome piece.

The obsession persists in every corner of each fandom. It can’t be escaped. Perhaps long-form storytelling became popular because of this, but even them most shows that try it are episodic in the end, allowing the episodes to have standalone stories within the larger line. Y’know, something some TV-shows like Buffy did well beforehand.

All this demerits each of these stories as a single standalone piece and as a totality. For whatever reason the holy pedestal of canon can’t deal with stories that stand and use the overall frame as the main part of the fictional world. For example, can’t we take all Star Trek series as their own work with works within them all the while dismissing the overlooming canon? Apparently not.  People get rivaled up for everything. Reality is, of course, that Spock did not have an adopted sister or a cousin looking for God in The Original Series, but the obsession to fit everything in a single fictional history overtakes this. This is very marketable. Perhaps time and effort would be better spend in discussing the merit of the work rather than its fictional history that is very much dependent on the whims of the author.

Purple’s Qualia; Travel like light

I wonder where I should start with this one. Perhaps from the start, though what is the starting point is hard to determine. Maybe it was the fact that Back to the Future sparked my liking for time travel stories at a younger age, or that SF books and such have so much about it. Even the first Final Fantasy is a time travel story at the end, looping the beginning and end together. Time travel story after time travel story after time story. With further understanding on how world works, the stories themselves adapted the ideas, installing multiple world theories and others as the standard rather than BttF‘s popular linear time traveling.

At some point, it became clear that time traveling requires spatial traveling as well. I don’t remember what made this point clear to me, but one story had it as its major focus. It might’ve been a short story in a collection. Both spatial and dimensional travels are popular topics within fiction. These sometimes incorporate time travel, but time travel inherently has to have either of the other, sometimes both.

These stories are everywhere. Very few of them are anything new. Games, books, movies, comics, each form of media has taken their numerous takes on time and dimensional travel. I grew tired of them. Few times I didn’t exactly realise that these were major parts of a story, like Muv-Luv. You could say I did, seeing my main argument to hate it was Don’t bring you aliens and mecha into my realistic romance story but after learning it was an alternative world, I opened up to it.

Perhaps the thing that broke the camel’s back with these stories was the fact that branching universes breaks the intended motif of Muv-Luv, where Takeru has been set in an ever-looping hell before he can find that one path to save the world from certain death. However, with the series now having retroactively installed the whole branching timelines, there are no loops as such. Each time Takeru returns to origin point, he is at a branching point. Rather than saving humanity in BETAverse, he manages to save one of the infinite branches his actions are part of in infinite amount of BETAverses. The original intention, the very mechanic of Muv-Luv, of repeating a loop until one true path was found, was made moot.

How would you sell a story with time travel to someone who categorically is sick of them? I’ve been sold many stories described as the most scientifically accurate or realistic depiction of time travel, but that’s an oxymoron. With the current understanding, time traveling only exists forwards. We do it just by being. Nobody has yet gone back to the past and explained how it all works, or come returned (if that’s even applicable term) from the future to tell us how it works. To put it bluntly, none of if is realistic, none of it works, and we can only travel forwards.

Cover of the novel, with Marii’s purple eyes, but none of the qualia yet

Maybe that’s not exactly the starting point. More like presenting the colours and paint that are going to be used on the canvas. When Jinki:Extend was airing around 2005, I was aware of it but never watched the show. I liked its visuals but at the time I had my hands and mind busy elsewhere. Tsunashima Shiro’s style is distinctive and eye-pleasing. It is rather ageless as well, and will stand the test of time better than some of his contemporaries. Fast forward some thirteen years. At this time I’ve begun checking modern shows that I missed, comics to read during my downtime despite going through some hard times. Finding his works, very few translated as such, ultimately lead me to 2009 novel Purple’s Qualia by Hisamatsu Ueo and its 2011 comic adaptation.

Purple’s Qualia, or lit. translated from 紫色のクオリア as Purple Colour’s Qualia (officially formed as Qualia the Purple because of course this would be the official translation Japanese went with) is a story about infinite possibilities, about deep and loving friendship, sacrifices through trial and error, and perhaps most importantly, about a girl with purple eyes who sees all living things as robots. It is also a story with time and dimensional travel without actually having either.

More after the jump, we’re going a bit image heavy here.

Continue reading “Purple’s Qualia; Travel like light”

Reviving for new ages is a challenge

Earthworm Jim is one of those franchises that had a momentary impact. After two good games, a decent TV-show and mediocre three-isue comic series by Marvel, it all went to the shitter. It’s a weird IP, tied to a weird era of television and culture in terms of design and visuals. Everything from the slightly scratchy and clearly hand drawn visuals to the slightly gross-out and weird designs that was hallmark of shows like Cow and Chicken and even Rugrats. You would think that making a heroic earthworm in intergalactic quest for peace with comedic overtones would be relatively easy to work out, but the sheer nonsense humour and how the games presented themselves didn’t really leave much room for the TV-show or the comics to flourish. Earthworm Jim 2 is even more nonsensical than its predecessor. Both of them are quality titles for the system they were released for, but adapting something like Earthworm Jim is just stupidly hard due to the lack of any cohesive world, and that’s kinda the point too. Sit back and enjoy the chaos and whatever ensues. EWJ is a like an acid trip that kept pushing envelope of What the Fuck.

Earthworm Jim, much like many other franchises and IPs, needs updating from time to time. Especially now EWJ is effectively being resurrected both in comic form and as a game for the upcoming Intellivision Amico. I agree, resurrecting Intellivision is a nifty move, but keeping the controllers like they were in original Intellivision won’t bode well. Hopefully optional controls will be a thing. One point that Intellivision should update itself to modern era. To use examples of IPs that kept renewing itself for new generations  are numerous, from The Transformers to Super Mario, most long running franchises have managed to find new ways to expand their consumers or find a new niche. Sometimes both. There are numerous examples of franchises getting screwed by badly handled renewals, like how Star Trek Discovery is less Star Trek than The Orville. Star Wars can be used as an example for an IP that war warmed up again and then revamped for the 1990’s with comics, books, games and whatnot. Let’s not talk about 2000’s and 2010’s Star Wars for now.

Very few IP can stay the same without any change throughout its existence if the owners want to milk it years on end. Something like EWJ was mishandled extremely badly after the second game was released. Some of the later Mega Man games were terribly handled as well, ranging  from utter garbage like Mega Man X 7 to series ending games like Star Force. EWJ revival is in good hands, seeing his original creators Doug TenNapel, David Perry and the rest of the motley crew are working on it. Doug’s handicraft especially is what has always given Jim his iconic look. While there are some who would rather not have Doug on-board, and that this blog holds the stance that original creators are not necessary in order to create great, if not even better, new installments to an IP, the history of EWJ games has been lacklustre without the original Shiny Entertainment team. Something like Metal Gear is relatively easy to approach, as the series’ core is easy to follow and has set tropes to the extent first few Solid games are just remakes of Metal Gear 2 in many ways. The weird humour EWJ employes is harder to trace down properly and replicate by someone else without it looking like a botched copy. It can be done, but it without a doubt would require people who are willing to let loose. Maybe be willing to have few magic brownies too. As weird as it may sound to people who didn’t see EWJ’s momentary popularity, it was on a straight road to stars, only to crash and burn.

EWJ can’t become a similar hit it used to be at this time with the current zeitgeist in popular culture and video games. Even with revising it’ll have the baggage of past games on it. It will be compared to the best of the franchise and expected to at least be on the same level. Beating Earthworm Jim 3D isn’t hard, or that GBC game, but it’s extremely easy to lapse how this new game is being handled. It’s just as easy to follow the first two game’s example and make a third entry that’s just an extension of one or the other, which would really would probably meet a positive reception, albeit lukewarm in reviews and be called a derivative work. It’d be just as easy just to do something completely different and unrelated, failing to understand why the first two EWJ games were so well loved. Nevertheless, it is easier to do a proper EWJ title nowadays than what it was twenty years ago. The IP is inherently 2D action. With 2D being again accepted as a valid, completely and perfectly normal view and gameplay angle, Earthworm Jim has a chance of becoming popular again. Anywhere between late-1990’s to mid 2000’s that’d been almost an impossible task, though even now 2D games often get the shaft.

However, the era of anthropomorphic mascots has been long over, with Sonic effectively being the only one left. Jim was immediate result of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle‘s explosive popularity, much like Battletoads was. What we have now related to anything of the sort simply doesn’t exist. Cartoons solely for kids in similar manner to the 1990’s are rather rare and cross-media franchising has changed. It’s not kids that are the main target of these cartoons and toys anymore. It’s still the same people who live with their parents and still buy the Spider-Man toys from the local store. You can’t dismiss these lifelong fans, but at the same time considering expanding the market, especially towards kids if the IP is originally a children’s franchise, is important. It’s a mess of a juggling act, trying to appease the long time fans that demand and rave multitude of things, trying to keep true with the origin and serve new possible customers while you’re at it all the while trying to make something new.

Sometimes it’d be the best to ignore everyone and everything and see what makes a worm tick, and follow those lines to perfection. Sometimes.