Forceful franchising

There has been a slew of bombs in the box office as of late. The latest Terminator met a dark fate of its own, and that reboot of Charlie’s Angels was a disaster to the same extent. If we were to got back few years, you can fill Star Wars into this as well. There are more flicks that fall among these three, but outside having a certain kind of political message to them, all three also had a second common factor; they were all forced.

By forced I mean that whatever the writers, directors etc wanted to do was forced on the franchise. It wasn’t just the political message that what forced, but the whole franchise is mangled and twisted to fit that mould. This forcing square peg into a round hole doesn’t need to be political though, it can range from that to a story that simply doesn’t work. Take the Terminator for example, a two movies series that, at its core, was about how we can choose to live and change the future. Any sequels to Terminator 2 would render the whole point of the two movies completely moot, which all of them did. Any and all stories set after the second have been nothing but microwaving the same leftovers over and over until nothing is left, until someone throws some goop on it to remoisturise it. Ends up being a terrible meal, just like Terminator: Dark Fate ended up being. Future War, the war against the machine seen in the two movies, would’ve made great material as a sequel and prequel at the same time. Showcasing the future that was prevented in all of its post-apocalyptic glory would’ve made great material, worth a trilogy of its own, but the closest thing we ever get to something like this on film was Terminator Salvation and that was terrible. For whatever reason, the franchise’s writers have some kind of hardon to shit on John Connor. Destroying a legacy character that is considered a major part of the franchise to any significant extension rarely goes well with the audience. You don’t need to look any further than Star Wars for another example of this, where all the Original Trilogy characters and concepts have been intentionally eradicated. Killing John Connor in the latest Terminator movie just for someone else to take his spot is not just an insult to Terminator 2, but a slap to the audience’s collective faces.

If you’re doing an entry to a franchise, you don’t get to tell your own story. You have to fit whatever you are intending to tell in that readily made setting without contradicting it too much. Otherwise it will not only cheapen the franchise as a whole, but also take away how believable your work is. Fanfiction writers are a good example for both better and worse, where some can write stories that don’t contradict the pre-established works but also supplants them, raising the overall value of the writing. Sometimes these people get to write new stories for their favourite franchise or similar, but on the other hand, you got the writers who intentionally disregard the pre-set world and proceed to write whatever is cool for them. The whole Mary Sue issue nothing short of common problem, something we see more often in ‘official’ franchise works nowadays. Star Wars again is a sad example, though I’ll cite The Force Unleashed‘s Galen Marek as an example here, as he has a lot of common with Rey, Both are “inspired” by Star Wars’ prototype material and both end up being very powerful in rather unassuming circumstances all the while making large and significant effects to the whole story despite not really having any reason to. I admit though that Marek/Starkiller was trained by Darth Vader, but that alone should raise some hairs. Sure, the whole thing about Sith backstabbing each other wasn’t anything new, but retreading the ground of What if Vader had an apprentice? was rather weak, especially when it turns out Marek ultimately played a large party in setting up the Rebellion… rather than, y’know, the people who clearly set up the Rebellion in Episode III and in previous materials.

I guess the success of the latest Rambo movie should show something Hollywood is missing most of the time. Reheating an old franchise is OK, as long as there is a point and doesn’t serve as a vehicle for something else, be it for an ego project, a trophy project or a political message as its main driver. In (John) Rambo we saw the titular character returning to home after all these years of seclusion and staying away, and while I’d consider that as the definitive end for the character’s story, Rambo: Last Blood visits the character’s everyday life once more, and to show that he can’t escape violence. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is rather positive 82%, and apparently most of the movie goers were women, if reports are to be believed. Much like how the gaming press writes to the developers rather than the customers, the movie reviewing professionals tend to review films for Hollywood, and often with an angle. Their score for the movie is 27%, which either shows that the larger audience has completely different taste in movies than the industry, or that the reviewers and Hollywood have lost all touch with the audiences. Most likely it’s partially both, and considering reviewers nowadays are dependent on the studios for review copies and favours, they are more inclined to give positive reviews than not. Ah, to be independent and burn bridges by trying to be honest.

That is not to say that you can’t have your own story or political message in a franchise work. Rather the opposite, but it also requires working the opposite way. Rather than slapping it on the surface like it was some sort of sticker, Hollywood (and games industry) is missing how it needs to be weaved as a part of the natural workings of the framework. Something like Jurassic Park is able to get away with its environmental message by having it as the major part of the work, but also balance it with everything else. Even during the dinner scene, where characters discuss the nature of genetics and whether or not it is for human to meddle with nature, we’re not left with just one side as we continue to marvel all that what has been criticised has left us. Star Trek rarely took the easy path during its more difficult episodes, especially during the best seasons of The Next Generation, while Discovery does the exact opposite, ridiculing and laughing instead of, y’know, taking the hard route and showcase characters as people rather than caricatures. Episodes like Darmok, Inner Light and Chain of Command didn’t only challenge the actors, but also the viewers. The Measure of a Man of course falls into this category as well, putting an ethical dilemma on the forefront, balancing on the issue without directly taking one clear side. While there is a story resolution, the episode still lingers. It is, ultimately, how well something is made. It’s like a good gravy; if you fuck it up, the lumps will make it terrible.

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 Moving American Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siding with all the sides of the market

Every international corporation has multiple ‘faces’ of promotion. Rare companies like Coca-Cola has relatively universal marketing across the globe, while entertainment companies like Nintendo and Sony have very much different approach depending on the market region they are in. In Japan, Kirby smiles and is happy-go-lucky, while in the US he wears a determined frown ready to cut shit down. This is extremely simple and straightforward example, yet it extents how corporations act in different markets. When a corporation tells you they act globally and think globally, it’s less about ‘Global’ thinking and more about being in as many probable markets around the globe they can. Why? Money, of course.

The whole deal with Blizzard nuking Hearthstone player blitzchung’s status and winning money has made some people realise this. For example, some of the characters in Overtwatch are gay outside China, while in China this statement has not been made, as Chinese standards on statistically deviating and abnormal sexuality in media is rather harsh. That is, it’s pretty much banned without any exception. Video and computer games themselves are considered to be detriment to the society, and having such examples that don’t align with Chinese standards of what is considered accepted. Then you had Blizzard making a statement that is very much different from their official Weibo account. One makes clear that Blizzard is not tied to Chinese in any way nor they can influence Blizzard’s decision, while the other rather clearly sides with the Chinese government and side with the current Hong Kong situation. Let’s put aside that Blizzard’s Western statement has been questioned anyway, as its language structure appears to be by someone Chinese who speaks English relatively fluently.

This is, of course, completely normal.

Wait Aalt, isn’t this Blizzard having two different opposite stands at the same time? Yes and no. Company can have completely different standards and practices in different market regions. For China, they have to conform to Chinese standards, and have majority of Chinese ownership somehow in order to operate there. This is why many companies would rather work together with a Chinese company, like what Nintendo used to do with the iQue Player. The company named iQue was fully owned by the Chinese while being Nintendo’s subsidiary. This has been the de-facto way of doing business in China, though within the last decade or so the Chinese have taken major parts of shares of some companies, while Chinese companies doing the heavy lifting, especially in the movie industry, All movies that Legendary Pictures have been part of somehow have had relatively heavy Chinese influence in them, and seeing China has become the single largest film market, it’s not unsurprising that studios are making Chinese-only edits of their movies. I recall Iron Man 3 having a China specific cut, where a Chinese doctor was cut in throughout the movie and is set to be person who ultimately removes all the metal shards from Tony Stark’s chest.

The question whether or not this is good or bad is really up to you, dear reader. This is largely just the reality of things. Don’t mistake one second that companies don’t have conflicting interests globally. While claiming to be progressive by being in favour of whatever class of minorities works as a decent way of making money in the West, this of course doesn’t apply everywhere and strategies need to be adjusted. Make no mistake, whatever the surface dwelling issue might be, companies will strike it to make money. Revealing characters to be homosexual seems to be very easy way to get in the good side of some of the customers seems to be a successful plan, at least in the US. Europe is not unified in this nearly to the same extent, and one way of advertising in London wouldn’t really work as well in Germany. Different cultures, different values.

That is the core here really. We expect companies to work under the regulations and values set in a country or region when they come from abroad. They might have damn good products, but they better hit the local consensus. Blizzard might be an American company, but that doesn’t negate that it is more sensible to try to cater the Chinese as well. Of course, most of the Western audience expects stances that cover the global market, but that is largely impossible. You can’t expect Americans to placate to Chinese values and vice versa. In the US, and probably in most regions outside China, banning blitzchung was extremely bad PR move. English speaking users have gone their way of closing their accounts, burning their games and overall voting with their wallets. Not all, some just don’t give a rat’s ass either way.

The question of course is if this is financially all that sensible. The Chinese market bubble isn’t looking too healthy in the future, despite being less than one third of the US economy. This is important, as US can be largely self-sufficient when it comes to international markets, while places like Japan have to import foodstuff and such. China could be too, but it doesn’t have the infrastructure or culture to be so. Chinese economical interests have been in building empty cities and expanding in Africa and Europe. China is dependent on exporting to the US though. According to George Friedman, China sends quarter of its exports to the US. If, perhaps when the US decides to pull off from the world stage, China’s economy is fucked. Around 2010, Friedman also estimated that China’s debt is around 40%, but still won’t enforce economic discipline. Japan had to do this in the 1990’s, which lead many unprofitable companies to be culled, something that continues to this day. Just look at how many Visual Novel companies have gone down in the recent years.

While catering to Chinese markets is completely standard procedure, something you don’t hear about because you’re not in the market, Chinese economy has higher chances imploding. Gaming is high-risk investment, and the Chinese are putting lots of money into gaming now to ride it. Electronic games market will feel when it hits. Companies with majority Chinese holders and money sources will dry up, projects will be cancelled and lots of people will lose their jobs. The Chinese government will put its citizens and companies before foreign ones. The Chinese market is not the same as Western markets, it is a twisted version of it at best. China is a communist nation after all, though their practices are more akin to fascism. Not Nazi fascism, but the kind that made The New Deal successful, the third road between capitalism and communism, putting the state at the handle of markets and companies. With Western companies, especially the US ones during when US seems to be retracting itself, are investing and putting their focus and effort like Blizzard has, the end result will be weak performance outside Chinese market, at worst straight out losing out if and when the Chinese economical implosion takes place.

I wouldn’t be worried about what happens to a games company in China. I’d be more worried about the incoming macro-economic shitstorm that is about to hit the world. The US can handle themselves just fine, the rest of the world really can’t. The Western world has fatal number of elderly people compared to the younger generation to replace them as workforce. When nations say they need immigrants to do work, they’re not lying. Global recession is imminent and countries have to look after their own asses. Common money like the Euro might end up fucking many nations over, thanks to already existing EMU partner nations who lied about their economical statuses and expected other member nations to bail them out whenever needed. In retrospect, it was a stupid idea for any EU nation to follow EU’s trading ban with Russia when Russia is one of the largest trading partners. In Finland, some of the industries like dairy products had to revamp their sales models and where they imported their products, as Russia was the most important trading partner. The dairy industry never got the same money off from European sales they managed to put up. If you’re not your own boss, you should be worried about your job.

It’s a small miracle that companies don’t practice different branding and advertising more in different regions. Of course, this is part of the whole globally recognised brand thing. I may not appreciate Blizzard having almost opposite stances in China compared to most of the rest of the world, but I can’t really boycott a company I was never a customer of. Game companies hope to hit gold with the Chinese bubble before it bursts, but after treating their PR this badly, they’ll have to work thrice as hard to win back the audience. All of it will be plastic surgery on the surface, while the core won’t change. Blizzard’s PR disaster probably will haunt them for a while among the fandom, but that will last only so long. They’ve lost a lot of good will from their customers, but their interest lies elsewhere. Vote with your wallet. People who say this doesn’t work clearly haven’t kept theirs closed enough. Make the company know your displeasure, hit where it hurts, and demand their focus to be on more solid market, market that houses the consumers who made their company.

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.

It looks like a movie

For some time now, I’ve been wondering what has been the definitive line splitting the old Star Wars and the Disney ones for yours truly. Outside the whole thing that their quality is questionable at best, outright offensively idiotic at worst, the one thing that ultimately stood out was how things were filmed, and ultimately written. This will be largely personal musings without any writer’s approach I usually employ.

Lucas’ directing and camerawork is not suited for big budget movies, as we saw during the Prequel films. Nevertheless we saw evolution of both during those three movies, where characters gained more meat on them as people who trained the actors in acting and effectively pre-directed them were brought in. The scripts, however, were more questionable in quality, but their tone, intention and motions were almost always on-point the same; as if it were real things happening.

This is largely how Lucas has always worked with his films, from building the sets to how he writes them and directs. Filming too, if he can help it. The world as it would be if these things were real. While the movies have the familiar structures to them and certain beats are made, the documentarian approach Lucas used is largely absent from Disney’s Star Wars movies. This approach was costly to him in terms of budget, as special effects, practical effects, the sets and the actors all had to blend in one shot together seamlessly and naturally. For example, in Episode IV after Death Star blows up Alderaan, we get a wide shot from inside of Millennium Falcon, showing the insides of the ship, Chewbacca playing games with the droids and Luke training with Obi-Wan. This shot could have been done cheaper by tightly focused shots that excludes the background, but the way things were filmed, as if they were real rather than a movie, doesn’t allow such budget conscious choices.

Furthermore, levity or jokes come from events and situations naturally. For example, C-3PO in Episode V often works as someone who brings some levity to the events and situation without breaking the tone. It comes through his natural being and interaction, unforced by external factors. For example, when 3PO breaks between Han’s and Leia’s tender moment within the Falcon, the audience doesn’t consider this as a forced joke. Rather, it is 3PO’s nature not to consider such things in his excitement. We saw some of this in Episode IV  as well, but how trusty he is with others to large degree when he has not foreknowledge. However, we should also consider him a strong diplomat, which 3PO shows rather well with the Ewoks in Episode VI. Sure, Lucas didn’t direct Episode V, or have much to do it with it creatively, but this just shows that Star Wars can be done right when in right hands. Nevertheless, the core story was still his.

The Disney Star Wars movies feel like they’ve been scripted and filmed like movies. The best example of this really is the start of The Last Jedi, where you have Your momma jokes shoved into a very deadly serious moment, breaking the tone of the scene and the whole sequence, especially when slapstick Force jokes are then put on the show when General Hux gets dragged on the floor in order to humiliate him. It doesn’t look natural, it doesn’t feel like what these characters would do if the movie was shot if it was real.

While we can always argue that the Disney movies are well made, that there is large effort to have the best look there is to them, the same can be said and argued for all the previous movies. It is easier and cheaper to make a movie look absolutely terrific, beautiful even, than what it was during making of Star Wars or Episode I. None of the modern CGI fests wouldn’t exists in their modern form if Lucas had not pushed the envelope in making his movies, something which ILM opened doors to other production to be lifted to new heights visually and technically, like Jurassic Park. The whole of Marvel movies would not just be possible without Lucas’ way to push technical limitations on the side, and at times it mostly seemed like Lucas was making movies to have something to edit or to try new tricks out. Digital filming broke its first grounds properly with the Prequels, for better or worse, but none of that really exists in Disney films. They’re rather safe to the point a fault. They are movies by the numbers, always using whatever trends currently are about, which is especially clear how Disney Star Wars and Marvel movies largely share the similar forced comedic, and the forced messages that are less than subtle.  Outside plastering Yoda’s face on a box of grapes, I can’t really think of any other way Disney has pushed Star Wars or film making onward. Sure, Lucas did franchise Star Wars like no other as well, but his was nothing compared to what Disney did. Well, maybe making Star Wars toys shelfwarmers should be considered some kind of achievement.

Remember when Star Wars somewhat subtle? Somehow I can’t help but think how Jar Jar’s comedy would be extremely fitting for Disney movies, seeing all the characters want to either act like a wall or a clown.

You could say that making Star Wars as by-the-books film should be enough, but it seems all the people who have been in the leading roles during Disney’s unwatchful eye, it’s a thing hard to actually pull off properly. Some would argue Lucas couldn’t with the Prequels, and with the media turning their tails on The Last Jedi, now calling it controversial instead of arguing how subverting it is, Star Wars is something that can be easily fucked up badly. Subverting expectations also have to lead into something of quality, something that would end in a positive net gain, which sorely is lacking with most stories that try to fail consumer expectations with some twist or another. Conventions and cliches exist for a reason. Denying them as sort of trash from the get-go is not only unproductive, but stupid. Not even a master storyteller can make a grand tale if all he does is fail the expectations of the audience. This doesn’t mean that the teller has to capitulate telling the tales and events the audience wants, but that he strikes with something even better, something that works even better than what they imagined. Unlike this blog.

Perhaps all this is really why Disney Star Wars feels so much like fan fiction. Not only are the new, original characters of the writers better than the original, they’re also eclipsing their roles altogether and failing to have any interesting developments and movements without the originals. Hell, I once argued that recasting all the characters with new actors should have been considered to continue their story after Episode VI, but if the rumours of Disney still paying royalties to Lucas due to him being original creator of most of these characters, it’s very easy to understand why they’d choose to opt killing the old cast in favour of their own. Also the reason why they excised the Expanded Universe, no need to pay any of the previous people anything when you can just push your own stuff. Just trickle an old character here and there as fanservice, that’ll keep the nerds happy. Now that Bob Iger’s autobio is out, we can see him throwing Lucas under the bus, as it states that George Lucas hates Star Wars. He isn’t the only one nowadays. Iger going on about how he didn’t appreciate Disney’s hard work on the new films and how Lucas didn’t like how all of his ideas were ignored reads like a hit piece. No matter how much hard work and effort you put into something, it can just a well amount to nothing. Well, in Star Wars case it has effectively become a tainted franchise thanks to Iger and the rest of the people from whoever that new Lucasfilm head was to J.J. You can’t blame Lucas for you own massive failures. They wanted to take the movies in their own direction, and that direction led to dropping revenues title by title. I can completely understand why Lucas would dislike Disney’s Star Wars, it’s really dumb after all. Most of the audiences seem to think the same way.

Well, can’t say I was there to begin with. The aforementioned Yoda branded grapes and the first initial shots and trailers we saw of The Force Awakens put me off a lot. It didn’t look right, the atmosphere was off, there was something in the back of my head saying this won’t end up well. That little voice of experience has saved me loads of money and headache, and I can honestly say that was the point when I bailed the ship. I wasn’t the only one, but lately we’ve seen more and more news about fans “quitting” Star Wars and kids being lost to other franchises. The franchise in itself is not at fault, but the way it has been managed, the way stories have been written, the goods and services that have been put out, are. I guess Star Wars is like a zombie of a long-past friend now, with some still flocking around for whatever reason, but the rest are just veering off due to the reeking, festering dead flesh.

If a media hurts your feelings, don’t consume it

Recently a Twitter user under the handle insatiablejudge got mad at earrings. Of course it’s a user on Twitter, and I’ll refer her as “the user” for the sake of my own sanity. What it is time? A motif on a character’s earrings supposedly uses Japanese Rising Sun motif, which then the user associates this with Nazis, imperialism and cultural genocide. Naturally she promotes censorship to remove the motif, which isn’t there. We can’t see the original post, because of course she has put her account into protected mode after people called her out on the bullshit she was spouting, but we can always use an archived version. Let’s take a closer look what image she was using to promote her push.

I could be petty about forgetting to use capitalised letters, but why do that when I could be petty about more important things. For example. the Rising Sun flag is still being flown by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force and hasn’t been retired from usage in total. The Japan SDF and Japan Ground Defence-Force use a different design with gold trims around the edges, so that’s one miss. Furthermore, it’s not the same design as the flag itself. The character’s earrings stem from Hanafuda cards’ design. There are no red sun rays from the red core. We can take a closer look at the design in comparison to the flag.

While an honest mistake could be made that the earrings represent the national flag, the design is very much different. As mentioned, it is based on the Hanfuda card design, which is why a set is being used the featured image. It is not a direct take on any of the cards per se, but rather using the visual themes and motifs. This much is confirmed by the series itself to boot. This would make the earrings themselves harmless, but of course if you don’t know the origin, or even properly see what’s drawn there, you might make some honest mistakes.

Whether or not the flag itself is controversial in South and East Asia (I think she mistyped and there), that should have nothing to do with the earrings themselves. The fact that nationalists use Japanese flag doesn’t really impact any arguments, as nationalism in itself is rather healthy in proper doses. It becomes a problem only at its extremes, whichever political ideology is using it. We shouldn’t abandon symbols simply because some unwanted or disliked group might be using a common symbol. For example, we should take the swastika back from its German National Socialist Party’s use and embrace its much older, far more positive and culturally significant meaning instead of leaving it to one sec only. We should also make strides to recognise how a Nazi swastika is a unique piece, standing on a tip at a 45-degree angle and “spinning” to the left, while .e.g. the Manji flat on its side, like this 卍.

An example of swastika used on a Viinikka’s church from 1930 before the German use even came to be.

I should probably mention that while some people might find themselves considering the Japanese flag, any version of it, associated with the World War II atrocities, the Japanese don’t. They associate the Imperial Rule Assistance Association’s symbol with the Nazi regime, as the para-fascist organisation formed in 1940, which aimed to create a totalitarian regime during wartime Japan. Even this is slightly skewed, as the organisation took some ideals and cues after the Nazis, but full-blown Nazism was not embraced or even desirable. It would seem the organisation has been somewhat dug into the ground, as many foreigners seem to either forget it existed, or didn’t know such organisation was a thing in the first place. There’s a whole history behind these guys, and a small post like this isn’t enough or even the place to dwell deeper into the Japanese wartime history in itself. That said, they got a really neatly designed symbol. What’s with these parties and appealing design sensibilities? Hugo boss still makes damn nice clothes too.

Of course, the user represented everyone in equal measure, which netted her loads and loads of South and East Asians coming in and stating that they don’t really give a damn. Y’know, the whole issue of someone stepping in and representing large sections of people without their consent. People like this should really ask consent before doing so, just like you have to have consent before sex.

All that said, the user seems to think that people who would get offended by the more classical Rising Sun flag wouldn’t get offended by the current one. These things run deep with certain people and associate any of a nation’s symbols with the worst. Some simply hate and abhor the sheer thought of Japan or Russia, despite the current state heads and most of the people within the nation having nothing to do with wartime events. Mulling over the past can only do so much good, sometimes the hatred for a nation can be driven by other kind of national pride or simple sheer unrelenting hatred.  Reasons are many and the politics are somewhat complicated, but at some point word just has to move on.

The chances the user suggest made to the earrings would remove the essence of the original design, contrary what she claims. The design consists of three elements; red circle, petal-like extrusions and ‘ground.” Removing any of these three would significantly alter the design’s essence. However, it would still leave the most offending part that most people associate with Japanese flag and its the red circle. The essence of the design would have been kept it the circle had been changed into burning orange or white, but of course it’s the petals that had to go, replaced by nonsensical lines. The red circle probably is the Sun, yet it is not the Rising Sun that it is assumed to be. Instead, it represents the character’s role as a successor to his father’s profession as a Hinokami Kagura, which would be loosely something long the lines of ‘Dancer for the Fire God.’ Then again, some Japanese posters claim it to be a flower, so take that as you will.

Claiming that pushing censorship isn’t controversial is outright bullshit. Whether or not it is easier to draw has nothing to do with her arguments. Whenever someone is pushing for censorship, especially when it comes to general arts, it is automatically controversial. Trying to kill a design, a drawing, a painting a message or whatever because it might be uncomfortable or injure someone’s sensibilities shows that lack of trust in people and how the consumer is treated like an idiot or an animal who can’t make heads or tails about the media he is consuming. Should we take into account people whose families got damaged somehow during World War II and change things for them? Absolutely not. Consumers should be aware what they consume. If you are consuming product created in Japan mainly for the Japanese market with clear Japanese motifs from the get go, you should damn well expect seeing Japanese imagery. Everything offends someone somehow. Hell, I’m offended by the user’s use of that particular grey with that red, green and white. Good job failing at Design 101; don’t fuck with viewer’s eyes if you’re intending to be informative; everything should be clear and easy to see, not feeling like you’re being stabbed in the eyes. If you can’t deal with something that you are not forced consume, you can either deal with it anyway, or consume something else. There is no reason for the creator or anyone else part of the creative process to capitulate and change their intended design and ideas to appease anyone else but themselves, or the targeted consumers.

Staying true to your work should always supersede giving in to censorship. Your main consumers are there for your work in its best, most pure form, not to see its altered, bastardised version no matter how small the changes might be.

It’s in the pattern

In Star Wars, the Force represents drugs and staying clean. Much like how drugs are addictive and an easy way to get high and good feelings, so it the Dark side of the Force. Both are demons that lurk in the shadows of everyday life, something that seemingly shady people string other by promising a thing or two. You get a small feel for it, then begin to use more and more of the stuff until it envelopes you whole. Anakin found the Dark side through a promise and it consumed him, changing his character and nature to something completely other, much like a hard drug addiction does. Note that Dark side users tend to have visible effect in and around of their eyes, similar how druggies have certain look and sags under their eyes. To contrast this, the Light side is all about staying clean and true to healthy life style, trying to spend your time doing whatever normal healthy stuff you can to get similar feeling of good, be it going for a run or going to a gym. It keeps you straight and clear headed, doesn’t pull you into anything that might ruin your life. The fight between Luke and Darth Vader in Episode V is all about how home violence blooms in a household full of drug use, be it alcohol or drugs, and Vader asking Luke to join is the drugs trying to compel Luke into abandoning his healthy life and becoming an addict. The battle between the two in Episode VI in contrast is Luke’s total refusal of drugs to a point of almost falling into the role of violent abuser, as well as showing the traditional patriarchal role of brother needing to protect his little sister from evil. Luke’s battle also depicts an intervention, where Vader is thrown to become a cold turkey and has to choose between healthy lifestyle and continuing to be the Emperor’s drugboy.

All the above is, of course, total and utter bullshit.

Humans are masters at pattern recognition. We see things where there is none. A tree’s bark might seem like a face, and there’s always that example of seeing a smiling face in cars’ fronts or in electric sockets.


Sometimes, like with the cars, the designer plays us and uses that pattern recognition while designing the car’s front. We can’t help it, its a result of our natural evolution. However, the way humans think often leads into reading something that isn’t there, like that example of Star Wars and drugs. We can make sense of something in a completely irrelevant context and say that there is a correlation between the two patterns. We can say so, perhaps even claim that these things exist, but never really realise that this is what people call reading to deep into things. I like over analysation personally, but they’re really the same thing, giving meaning to matters through concepts that don’t exist in a body of work, but through either personal bias or misconception we tend to apply comparisons and themes to patterns that don’t exist. Like those sockets; there is no face of any king, but I am sure you all see two very happy sockets that just wait a plug to smash into their faces.

This has become somewhat an academical field, to view something from an angle that looks for themes and patterns that are not there. It has become rather profitable to apply social issue themes to some popular franchise, despite such thing does not exist in the work. To use Star Wars as an example again, nowadays the Empire is called a proxy for the German’s National Socialist party, the Nazis. This has been taken to the extreme of being applied directly into the First Order, where the it goes overboard and hits you in the head. However, in the original trilogy this does not exist. The thing with the Empire and Rebels is that it contrasts to an overall theme of overpowering superpower might over small, but extremely resistant group of fighters. The direct comparison is to Viet Cong and the United States during Vietnam War, a timely parallel. Episode IV doesn’t hit you in the head with this, but this is by design. Lucas did put the comparison in there by intention, but didn’t hit you over the head with it. Everything else was put before hitting the viewers in the head, unlike in the Disney era Star Wars where there are no subtle approaches. This makes seeing the themes much easier, but at the same time treating your audience like idiots has tanked the franchise rather harshly.

Seeing patterns and analysing them of course is fandom pastime. Neon Genesis Evangelion fandom is effectively build on analysing and seeing things that aren’t there, applying motifs and themes that seem applicable either because the patterns fitted into a motif make sense, or because there isn’t much to go that even the smallest leaps of logic require pulling stuff out from your ass. Then again, the Rebuild movies seem to be build on this idea and scatter hints and connections all around for these fans to put together. Then again, even then people will pull out comparisons and motifs of homosexuality between Shinji and Kaworu, despite the concept not exactly being applicable between a human being and a creature beyond us that doesn’t exactly conform to humanity despite being shackled into a boy’s form.

News media of course is worst in this, as they intentionally will play with pattern recognition bias either with selected footage, manipulated images via mirroring, cropping or otherwise, and of course with selected words that are meant to trigger associations. An important part of media education is to teach children to be aware of their own bias first and foremost and consider what has been presented and how. Appealing to the consumer’s own leanings is extremely common, and catering to these leanings is extremely large market, where people are offered bias confirmation as well as ways to assert their personal believes. Hence why Wikipedia should only be start of your research, not the end. Reading beyond what’s presented to you at face value should be a standard, not just a thing you do now and then.

Perhaps even more common is the refusal of trying to see things from multiple angles. While this sounds similar to seeing patterns that don’ t exist, seeing two sides of the same coin very different. Rather than forcing a view unto something, you instead take all the information you can and see from a view that wasn’t or has not been presented to you. Often biased news outlets will only showcase one biased view while completely ignoring, and sometimes even suppressing, more views because it might hurt the legitimacy of their agenda. For example, electric cars are now said to be the most green way to travel via car, but what’s not told is that producing those cars and their batteries consume resources and pollute as much as driving a gasoline car daily for seven years. Practically all news are like this, and even me mentioning it can be analysed to drive the agenda of promoting consumer self-education and awareness.

Possessive fans

I’m sure everyone of you have had this experience yourself, or act it out yourself sometimes; someone really likes a something, be it a comic, movie, a restaurant or even just a candy bar, and this person really doesn’t want others to get into it. He wants to keep to himself and keep the masses or normies, whatever the buzzword is today, out. This is petty at best and does not serve whatever it is being liked. The creator sees less success and has to consider whether or not it is worth to continue on this lane of production/existence, if it would be more worth to take things to a different direction that might change things around enough to turn the thing into something completely different. Every fan knows that to ensure their loved thing will see further success means money and exposure. That means each fan has to become a sort of piggybank, a paywhale for this little thing in order to keep it afloat and make sure the provider knows this, that he will continue to cater to him and his closest circle. The other option is to allow everyone else to throw money at this thing and have it exposed to the wider world world.

There are arguments made every which way regarding this sort of thing. Some argue that the fandom changes for the worse when more people get into this thing, that there’s a cycle that not only degrades the fandom, but also the product itself when it has to cater to more people. Warhammer 40 000 is probably a decent example of this. The perception in the mid-1990’s was that only fat, smelly nerds who have an awkward social life at best who never left their parent’s basement painted these itty bitty figures and then went to dedicated store basements that smelled like rotten cheese and boiling sweat for hours long sessions to play with their toys. Nowadays WH40k has become entertainment for the masses via Black Library books that tell the canonical story set in the game’s universe with the tabletop game itself enjoying more newcomers as well.

Comics of course are another example, which some would argue showcases how a great product can change and turn to absolute mess. While I would fully agree that both Marvel and Dc have gotten rotten at their core, I don’t agree that it is because of expanded audience. Just the opposite; Marvel and DC comics used to be mass entertainment in the US when they were sold in your normal groceries stores alongside Archie and such. The quality downfall of the Big Two was effectively when they begun to cater to a smaller audience that kept getting smaller with time. The sales the Big Two make now would get their books axed and the modern sales can only envy the numbers of past. It is not an exaggeration to say that when comics where entertainment for everyone, they were at their best. When they begun to cater to a smaller audience, and now even to smaller audience that doesn’t even really buy the books. Just look at the female Thor storyline Marvel put out in 2016. Its sales dropped more than 50 percent after the first issue. Even the long-time core customers didn’t want to buy that trash, and the people it catered to don’t buy comics. It is a common secret that comic book movies were the best thing currently since the first Iron Man movie. Were is the keyword, as it would seem that Disney is taking the same direction as with the comics.

There is also an argument for intrinsic value. The less people know and consume a product, the more intrinsic value it is perceived to have. The value is high when the audience is niche. The product’s perceived value drops the more people get into it and the more exposure there is. You’d think this some sort of stupid illogical reason, and you’d be partially right. It is an emotional reaction of course. Some people hoard stuff to keep it to themselves as that supposedly increases the value. To some degree this does apply to single items, but this feeling of value is very easily extended to emotional connections and how exposed something is. This is somewhat a basis for the stereotypical hipster culture culture, where you have people acting strange for the sake of being different, getting into obscure stuff that nobody else knows for the sake of standing out and at least claiming to value the piece.. The don’t really want their strange and unique things go mainstream, because then they’d be mainstream and not strange and unique. Funnily enough, while yours truly has been claimed to act like a hipster, I do pretty much the exact opposite; here’s this strange and obscure shit, like it so it might get more exposure and maybe more fans. I just don’t like being in a community of something myself.

What is interesting about this whole thing is that this ties to the argument Popularity is not the measure of quality. I bet most of you have been a fan of something small that blew up, with the object of fandom staying the same, but the old fans nevertheless left. This ties to the above, but also to the perception that anything that is largely popular could never be of high quality. Of course this can, and often should, be turned around that success is a measure of quality. Ultimately, it is rather absurd to argue that the masses know nothing of high quality or that only a smaller group would know about a greater value something holds. Entertainment has skewed itself to cater in certain way, always has really, and people often forget that even original ideas, small providers and something that are made with a passion, in the end aim to make some money. Nobody makes a production in hopes of losing money for the sake of making the product, unless they already have shitloads of money in the bank to burn. That’s why most trophy projects end up in the trashbin of quality, because they’re made only to attract the preferences of one.

Of course, some people just want to enjoy their preferred thing alone without much others getting in. The question really ends up being with this; why concern yourself with others? Do we really as a species need to dick measure everything and call out others on stuff they find value in? It would seem so, as opinions are really the only things we can argue over, and people will always argue, bitch and moan what people do or what they like, even when there’s zero impact on themselves. Alternatively, we could try see all sides and consider why the things we like are absolute garbage, while the things we dislike and others prefer are worth the time and effort.

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.