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.

Iczer Robo: A Visual History

This is a part of series of posts relating to Fight! Iczer-1 franchise. Please see Robot related materials above for further content on the subject

The intention of this post is to cover main appearances of Iczer Robo and its main different versions and successors from the Fight! Iczer-1 franchise. This is not an exhaustive list of all appearances and images, but an overview on some notable ones. This post is heavy with images, so the click below for more.

Continue reading “Iczer Robo: A Visual History”

Purple’s Qualia; Travel like light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three approaches in designing a mecha

The three approaches to mecha design this blog uses is based on their role and function within fiction rather than in-fiction. The first archetype is the Protagonist, a mecha that functions or acts like any human character and is treated as such within the narrative.

The Protagonist mecha as a character serves an integral role within the narrative. Initially they may seem like simple machines, like the eponymous Mazinger Z, yet they exhibit clear-cut human characteristics in actions and behaviour. Mazinger Z sunbathing in the original series Mazinger Z-series is this exact human-like behaviour the mechas are written with.

Here, the symbolic action of shaking hands is not represent the pilots themselves per se, but the relationship and role of the mechas

These type of mecha can also be explicit characters unto themselves, as it is with the The Transformers and Brave-series. These mecha are only separated from their human co-characters is their nature as giant mechanical beings. In cases like Beast Wars, there is no distinction between characters as such, all of them simply are the characters, but share the main characteristics of being human equivalent in different form.

The Protagonist has a unique role within the story. Not necessarily the main protagonist in itself, often sharing that role with another human character or another mecha. The same categories of heroes and villains apply to these as much as they apply to human characters.

In visual design, Protagonists more often than not share a humanoid body with strikingly human face. Heroman, by all intentions, shared all the previously mentioned points; a human-shaped mecha with human face and sits in a prominent role within the fiction as one of the main characters next to the main human protagonist.

American made in Japan

However, there is extremely wide variety of Protagonist mechas which toy with the concepts and ways to realise the main role. GaoGaigar, for example, in itself has no characters outside as it is an extension of Guy Shishioh; it less piloted as it is a giant piece of armour for Guy.

It must be mentioned that most Protagonist mechas are found in media aimed at younger audiences with healthy amounts of toys, and tend to have connections to the Super Robot side of mecha. This is not to degrade from the fiction itself, only an observation.

Naturally, the opposite of human-like characters would be the lack of humanity, as it tends to be the with the second archetype, the Machines.

The utilitarian approach to mecha design has always been there, though it gained most of its popularity in the 1980’s. While Mobile Suit Gundam certainly paved the way for Real Robot as a sub-genre, shows like Armored Trooper Votoms and FLAG have taken the concept to its more natural direction due to lack of needing to sell toys as much.

FLAG‘s HAVWC, High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier, is equipment.

Unlike with the Protagonists, a Machine has no nature to speak of. To make a blunt comparison, they are toasters. Their use is largely utilitarian. The form is made and designed for a purpose first and foremost, following the necessities over flavour.

The mechanical design is far more industrial as opposed to organic contours, than anything else among the Machines. Take Heroman above for an example. Most of its shapes are round to further accommodate its humanoid visual. While at a first glace HAVWC would fit this as well, its shapes are equivalent that of a car, lines made to increase aerodynamics. Heroman is not exactly an aerodynamic character, and its not supposed to. That is a tertiary concern at best. In order for it to be more aerodynamic in its forward position, it would require some sort of wind-breaking apparatus around its chest to lessen drag.

However, FLAG is an example of the more more adhered end, similar to Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01, which has been described as equivalent of mechanical pornography due to its attention detailed opening.

The Machine comes in many varieties, all of which share multiple characteristics. Mass production is one, where the mecha can be or is mass produced. Scopedogs are a dime in a dozen in Votoms and are easily replaceable. Round Vernian Vifam is another example of a show, where mechas are tools, and the cast goes through numerous units during the course of the show.

Valkyries from Macross, despite often gaining a prominent role as a single unit or a customised main character vehicle, are all from a production line of similar units. While later entries in the series have made an effort to give most characters their own unique snowflake Valkyrie, in the end all of them are more or less faceless machines that showcase no human characteristics, outside the genre-defining four limbed humanoid shape.

Specialist roles are not exactly uncommon among Machines. Full Metal Panic!’s Arm Slaves, while mostly consisting of non-unique units, the units used by the protagonist Sousuke Sagara deviate from this mould in form of Lambda Driver, which allows the pilot to turn their willpower into physical force. This specialist position, be it due to extra equipment, prototype role or simply because the mecha is a protagonist’s unit, is a common trope. This position does not change them into Protagonists per se, unless human characteristics are applied. It is not uncommon for people, fictional or not, humanise their devices to a large degree and treat them accordingly.

Vehicles technically fulfill this spot,

However, it’s not uncommon to see the the aforementioned archetypes mixed either.

The Hybrid approach takes characteristics from both sides of the fence in a happy mid-ground. Perhaps the most well-known examples of this would be the Evangelion units of Neon Genesis Evangelion. While treated as equipment and something that can be mass-produced, each EVA-unit exhibits overt human-like characteristics from in-universe and in their role. EVA-01 is effectively one of the main characters while still serving the role of a toaster. Its design goes for utilitarian, but only in terms how the EVA-unit itself allows this in-fiction. The base design idea was, after all, a monster barely controlled by humanity.

A some sort of purple mom bot

Another method to give mecha character is by keeping the core mechanics itself intact in terms of its role though the use of Artificial Intelligence. Jehuty from Konami’s Zone of the Enders series of games is exactly this.

Jehuty in itself has no conscience or awareness within fiction, no character to speak of. Its actions and behaviour are determined by its pilot and support AI, A.D.A. In principle, A.D.A. could be embed into whatever Orbital Frame would support the addition.

These three approaches are more or less starting points, more or less. While at first it may seem arbitrary to make a category of three, one of which is effectively just combining the first two, they serve their role in setting the proper mindset for design work. That is, the nature of the mecha rather than the end-visual the designer ends up making. That is up to the designer’s own style and research into the subject materials.

For further reading on expanded subjects, such as combiners, basic design tips, controls and similar, please visit the Robot Related Materials section.