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.

The power of the Customer

The customer chooses whether or not you succeed or if you fail. This can’t be overstated, but what has been understated that not all customers are one group. Take a sample of any consumer group, be it fans of a franchise, soda drinkers, candy eaters or whisky juggers, you’ll always find that they have something in common and something very much uncommon with each other. Within your target audience, you can’t appease everyone. You can hit different parts of your target audience with multiple products that appease different varieties of tastes, even if those tastes might clash harshly against each other. There’s a reason one of my random banners at the top is quote from Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, stating the there’s only one boss, the customer. Money moves almost everything in our daily lives, from the power you’re getting from your wall outlet to the clothes you’re probably wearing. Simple change in spending habits, like going to another chain’s store than your usual one, can affect things rather strongly. While the Internet has made campaigning against and for something so much easier, compared to letter campaigning or phone calling, the best form of stance taking is still hitting where it hurts the most; the wallet. However, wallet voting has taken hit on how effectively it is. The Internet has allowed movements to become louder and more obtuse, especially with the advent of social media. This has obfuscated the real amount of consumers doing anything, as majority of consumers are still silent. That is to say, most companies hear the voice of the minority of their customers, which leads only small sects sometimes impacting production, sales and whatnot of products that would otherwise have normal sales. Reasons vary, from mother’s campaigning to pull out GTA V from Target’s store shelves in Australia or some animal awareness group pointing out how Pokémon is animal abuse, you can take your pick from whatever ideological and political spectrum and you’ll find a group that’s making noise.

The creative industries have a hard time dealing with consumer wants and demands from time to time. Individual entrepreneurs have probably the hardest time finding and keeping a customer base. Individuals have to do everything on their own, and very few realise early on that having sensible finances and being able to keep your own book is highly important. Nowadays it is easier to find your own niche, though competition is even fiercer. Despite the rosy image of an artist giving his heart and soul to the piece and sees the world celebrating it, the reality is that artists still work in a service industry and their work needs to reflect the consumers. While art is culture, it is also a consumable. Only a fraction of a fraction of works that get cited as art will enter the cultural lexicon, something that’s becoming ever increasingly difficult as out 24/7 cycle of everything sees everything getting old within a matter of days. Fifteen minutes of fame has been reduced to closer to five.

The net’s full of comparisons like this

This has lead some to question if fans, a.k.a. consumers, have too much power over the products they consume. Or to put it like BBC Culture did, are fans too entitled? To touch the opinion piece a little bit, it mostly covers history of fans able to change and influence creators, citing examples like Sir Conan Doyle resurrecting Sherlock Holmes ten years after killing him off due to an intense reaction from the readers. For 1893, maybe ten years was long enough time for the books to spread. That, or in reality the considerable large sums of money ultimately changed his mind. After all, that made him one of the most well paid writers of his time. Stephen Kelly, the aforementioned piece’s writer, considers the change of Sonic’s model change in Sonic the Hedgehog unprecedented in modern relationship between artist and fan, something that is false. Video game characters have seen redesigns from time to time for numerous reasons after fans backlash, or have the perceived atmosphere has directly impacted the designs. This most notably has affected female characters, while the male characters have been left mostly alone. From Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s Tifa being more toned down compared to her original design (despite still getting riled by some) to something minor like a win pose being changed in Overwatch. While changing how Sonic looks in his movie resulted in tons of good PR, and the staff have been saying the fan feedback was invaluable. Whether or not this is a positive example is really up to you. Whether or not you prefer the original movie Sonic design compared to the current one.

The point of the piece is whether or not fans have entitlement over the things they buy. One example she cites where a minority of fans hammered down a movie despite critics and other fans liking it is The Last Jedi, though now that we’re two years after the fact looking at the results of the film, and how it affected the franchise as a whole, it wasn’t exactly a minority that rejected the movie. Sure it has its core fans, but the culture and general consumers at large simply for numerous reasons, which all can ultimately be bogged down as They didn’t like it. The franchise is feeling and reeling from the after shakes still, and will be for the foreseeable future. Kelly tying identity politics with Star Wars and the 2016 Ghostbusters is false, as the 2016 Ghostbusters is simply a terrible movie that failed to launch a new franchise for Sony to bank on. Then again, #GG is used as a boogyman in the piece and represented highly inaccurately, and really has nothing to do with anything aforementioned. There is no true conclusion to Kelly’s writing outside Fans are the problem, but fans are also the solution, which really means jack shit.

Let’s take a recent case about fans being split about a character redesign. A Japanese illustrator and character designer named Ban was employed by Flame Toys to redesign a Transformers character named Windblade for their Furai Model line of model kits. Flame Toys is known to redesign characters while working under Hasbro’s license, and these redesigns can be drastically different from the original works. If you check Ban’s Pixiv, you will notice at least two things; clean and smooth style, and that a lot of his works are Adult Only. His works are hard to represent in plastic due to him employing some shading and linework that works only in 2D. After Flame Toys revealed Windblade’s physical prototype in New York Toys Fare, there was a backlash against the design, forcing them to take down their posts on social media. The designer, Ban, still retained the prototype images on his Twitter.

Arguments about this design were conflicted. While a portion disliked it, a larger portion seems to like it. Difference is, most of the detractors on social media were English speaking customers, while the customers with positive feedback shared both English and Japanese. Unsurprisingly, few different posts explaining the backlash to the Japanese fans popped up, to which some Japanese laughed at and some thought the situation was unfortunate. Criticism ranged from it not being aligned with the original design of the character, which should have been a given seeing this is a Flame Toys product and that The Transformers toyline is full of redesigns of all sorts, to all the way how Ban’s design gave the character bikini, despite Wingblade’s bust and crotch always had red accents, as seen on the right. The wings where a sticking point to some, as they seem to be clipped in Ban’s redesign. This is of course natural, as Ban emphasized their nature as the bow in obi, the sash Japanese use with kimonos. I didn’t hear anything about the head crest’s size, but some issues with the second proto photo’s pose, and some were asking why the other, masculine models weren’t put in the same position. This is an example of false equivalency though, as what attracts men and women, and what shows their best sides, is different between the two sexes. The two sexes also value each other in different ways, emphasizing regions of body in altogether different manner, which is very much apparent in most more designed Transformers toys, where masculine emphasizes can be seen on broad shoulders, well defined chest and flat, sixpack stomach regions. Let’s not forget strong chins.

If I’m honest, I never liked Windblade’s design. The head crest is silly, the wings looked dull and generic, turbines everywhere, they manage to make the face look terrible, not much unique body definition after seeing what sort of design Animated series had. Personally, I don’t think Transformers as a whole needed sex, the species is mechanical in nature and could’ve been treated as one-sex or sexless

The fans were split, and not evenly even. This is an example where smaller sections of the target consumer group was split on a character design. You had a section that disliked it, you had a section that was as vocal about liking it, and then you have those who don’t really care. This is a gross simplification, as the reality is that there are thousands of small fractured groups working under similar umbrellas. Some have echo chambers, some don’t even interact with the rest of the fandom, and some simply had no interest on the topic as it was about a model and not about a transforming toy. Considering Furai Model kits are targeted at adult collectors, the niche audience this model was targeting most likely already excluded a lot of voices on both sides. A French Youtuber put many peoples’ thoughts rather well; There is a store package version for children, and this model kit is clearly not for them, but one of the many adult collector’s figurines. It’s pretty funny to use the term “objective” about a machine… Last bit of course refers to the complaint that Ban’s design is sexist and makes women sex objects. It considering this is a robot toy, objectification of a fictional robot is expected, as that’s what making a toy is. The design is sexy without a doubt, with expected curves, but as a friend so elegantly put it, You’re telling me Ban draws something else than boys with dicks? the design is rather held back from what it could have been.

If we are to consider the creative industries, or just arts, as something untouchable by external forces, why shouldn’t Flame Toys celebrate Ban’s redesign of Windblade and sell it to the customers? Or should they listen to the part of their broader possible customers and cancel it, losing whatever money they’ve had thus far in the production? If we were to stick with the idea that art should be independent and ignore both positive and negative feedback, Sonic’s designs wouldn’t have changed and Flame Toys would still have their New York Toys Fare posts up just fine. Some might see this as false equivalency due to supposed ideologies and whatnot, but stripping all the excess fat off and getting to the point, it’s all about customers voicing their opinion on a revealed character design.

Every kind of design and form of media has its customers. One thing has more than other, I doubt anyone really contests that in a serious discussion. However, not all products require to sell high numbers. Prestige and deluxe products are intended to be produced in relatively low quantities but in high quality. Their price tag represents this, often tacking more than few zeros at the end. The main difference between the two main examples in this post, Sonic the Hedgehog is intended for all audiences at an open marketplace. Furai Model Windblade on the other hand is (maybe was at this point) targeted at a niche of a niche market, an adult collector who builds robot models. The two markets are at rather opposite ends in popular culture media landspace, but not quite.

There’s no real stance here regarding the blog. While one of the stances this blog has is pro-consumer, it also supports the idea of companies looking at the cold data over customer response. The reason for this is that the customer doesn’t know what they want. We as customer think what we want, but when we’re given options to choose from, we often find ourselves picking something completely new, something we didn’t expect we’d want further down the line. Despite customers voicing their disagreement at times, offering variety of products is as important to hit all the niches in your targeted customers. This of course leads into juggling with the PR, both positive and negative such move creates, but that’s business as usual, as this is a chance to use both positive and negative attention for net positive gain.

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.

Claims of censorship do not always apply

Here’s a curious case for you to ponder; is it censorship, when you are contracted to fulfill a character design to an employer, and the employer changes after it is from your hands? If you answered Don’t be daft Aalt, if you’re employed and the contract says that the design needs to fill certain criteria, of course it isn’t then you don’t agree with Olivia Hill. Hill recently gave a small jab toward people who argue and are against censorship, in games and otherwise. She claimed that her vision of a character called Astrid was a bold anti-hero character, which was then changed into a generic fantasy anime lady. He calls the executives, who made the final decisions and changes to the character, douchebags and other unsavory names all the while claiming that they cut people out from the studio who didn’t want to work under their rule.

That’s given; if you don’t do your work, you get fired.

Hill’s claims are dubious at best, seeing there are only screenshots and ads given for Evertale, a game I’ve never heard of, but it seems to be your standard gacha mobage. Considering the game’s developing company, ZigZaGame, is a Japanese corporation and I can’t find any connections between Hill and her supposed past studio that worked on Evetale. Instead, it would appear that she did not exactly have to do anything with the game, and as a reply to her post points out, an artist named furuya. English provided jack shit information, as per usual in cases like this, but you can check Kazto Furuya’s Twitter for a post, where he mentions how he finalised and tweaked Astrid’s character a bit. He also has a promotional render on Pixiv. Considering how Furuya acts like most Japanese illustrators and designers working on a game like this, it is far more likely that Hill was blowing some air, taking credit for someone else’s work all the while accusing of Furuya, and by that extension people of ZigZaGame, of being pedophiles due to Astrid’s design, on or out of bikini. Astrid however does not look like your twelve years old warrior woman as Hill claims, might I add. She looks like any other generic teens-to-thirties Japanese cartoon character.

While I can’t disapprove Hill’s claims about her previous studio (unnamed) or what sort of work she ultimately did there and to whom it went to, Hill doesn’t offer any proof either. However, I’m going to trust what Japanese sources and especially what Kazto Furuya himself says with traceable sources and call her out on bullshit. However, she does claim to live and work in Japan and places herself in Tokyo, so maybe she was part of writing house that wrote the initial treatment for Astrid. Still, that alone doesn’t confirm anything really over Furuya’s case.

That out of the way, let’s reconsider her claim; if executives changes your character design to fit the marketing better, is that censorship? No, that’s just business.

To use a comparison, the censorship Sony is currently practicing is different. It is not one and the same company putting pressure on its own hired workers to finish on an agreed product. This is an outside company, from whom a developer and/or publisher has bought a license to publish a product on their platform. While some may justify Sony’s censorious practices by the fact that PlayStation is their platform and they have the full control over it, other may not agree with that notion fully. The guidelines are muddled at best, demanding developers to send their products to be vetted in English, damaging the relationship between Sony and third party developers. It should also be noted that some products, that already were on release schedule and ready, were veto’d afterward. Simply because Sony can does not mean they should, but their arbitrary rulings are always an outside force, not something that comes from inside the developers’ houses.

Let’s assume Astrid was an experienced warrior woman clad in black first. That’s the first bit I have problems with, as black is such a goddamn dull choice of armour colour in a fantasy setting. If Astrid was changed from this simple description to her much younger looking form, which still would appear to be a high-ranking warrior in a red armour on her own rights, there has been no censorship. It is no surprise to anyone that a work changes as it goes forwards. It didn’t meet up with the standards, it wasn’t what was needed or demanded of you, it does not fit the overall plan or the groundwork and so on. The reasons are numerous. A writer or an illustrator, artist even, are not hired for a company just because they can create something, but that they could create something for the corporation to market and make profit of. If you are employed in any way to produce content like a character design and background, you are expected to deliver by the books. Unless your contract has a miracle clause that says the corporation has to release whatever you do without them touching it, you are there to work for them and they are the ultimate beginning and end for your work.

It always seems like artists’ visions get trampled when someone changes it within a company. The fact is, often these visions are costly and/or not marketable. If an artist has that much faith in his given work, he can tweak it enough not to infringe on the corporation’s rights and publish something with that would be more along the lines of that original vision. Majority of the time, whatever character design work you do, that work is owned by the employer  by default. In very few cases, the creator retains rights to the character or whatnot they have created. American comic’s industry is well known for this, and it has been a long time discussion who should own the rights to created characters; the writer/artist, or the company? As I’ve mentioned, if you’re happy to give your work to a corporation as per contract, there’s no reason to dilly dally and doubt.

It is not uncommon knowledge that games change according to what investors and executives want. Video and computer games are a business after all, their main goal and drive is to make money. Unless you’re a big dick on a company or its head, your vision means jack shit if it is in the way of making some dough. That’s why people who consider their vision utmost importance either work their way into this position or put up their own companies to realise their goals to the best extend they can. No one’s work is untouchable when they’re working for someone else. With ZigZaGames, they seem to put fun first and foremost. To quote their website, If a game ultimately fails to be entertaining, we will never release it, no matter the funds or the effort we have put into it. Taking everything at face value, it would seem that Hill’s initial treatment wasn’t fun enough, and more resources were expended to tweak the character to fit the game director’s and main illustrator’s vision. Again, that’s not censorship. That’s polishing aspects of a product before release.

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.