A Lostworlds novel is still lost to the World

Kenneth Flint’s The Heart of the Jedi is a cancelled 1993 Star Wars expanded universe novel. In 2015, it was published on The Star Wars Timeline in a re-edited form to fit the Legacy Expanded Universe of Star Wars, and has been now independently published on Amazon. The book is being sold with no profit in mind, only to cover the printing bill, but sadly this work isn’t the same as that 1993 cancelled book.

Why was the book cancelled in the first place? According to the author, Bantam Spectra considered the book not to fit then-new Expanded Universe timeline. We don’t have anyone else’s take what happened, and Flint’s Behind the Scenes story (readable at The Star Wars Timeline) is only his side we officially have. To get the whole picture, we should get someone who worked at Lucasfilm and Bantam, and was involved in the book to get a whole picture. We can assume that it was conflicting with other higher priority works under production, but we’ll probably never know. Nevertheless, Flint’s recollection does read like an education piece about not putting all your eggs in one basket. You can read a lot of pain between the lines.

Joe Bongiorno, the editor, wrote notes that he wanted to go give this “last Expanded Universe” novel the proper treatment like every EU novel before. It was never made to fit the then-new canon, but has been edited to fit the Legacy continuity for the given reason. This required shifting events slightly, renaming a planet (or rather, using a planet with little prior background) and changing things like shapeshifting species being more a common knowledge rather than something new due to something happening about ten years later in the old EU. While Bongiorno assets that no great changes were made and that the work is “essentially the same,” that’s not cutting it. While these edits were made under Flint’s blessing, it’s selling the audience and the work itself short. These edits mean the original cancelled The Heart of the Jedi is still unpublished as it has been replaced with this edited version.

You may consider this splitting hair. The book is now out there in physical form, and has been readable since 2015 online. However, the issue similar to the restoration of any old thing, be it a work of literature of furniture. It doesn’t matter how much the work has been edited and to what extent, but now that it has altered content, it needs to be treated as a new version of that cancelled version. The issue isn’t that it has been edited to fit the canon, new or old, the issue is that it was edited from its originally intended form. An argument can be made that if The Heart of the Jedi had been published in 1993 or later, it would have necessitated going through further revisions to fit the continuity that was being established. That would have been fine, that’s the nature of the beast. However, this does not stand twenty-two plus years after its cancellation, as the book was something fans were asking about for years on end. There was no need to go back and change it around. Fans, who were the target audience, would know the history and understand how it stands. This could have been a great act of preservation, a massive move to showcase a cancelled piece George Lucas himself supposedly liked. Yet, what we have in our hands now is an edited version of that particular book. Making changes to fit this work to the canon, when it never fit any canon, was a straight-up mistake.

The flavour blurp on Amazon funnily asks the “House of Mouse, don’t sue me”. Whatever your bottom line is on how Disney has handled Star Wars as a property, they still own it. Disney should have a case for property infringement. You can argue however much you want that this is a non-profit work (which in itself doesn’t actually mean profit isn’t made by someone) or how it is for collectors only, but there should have been permission from Disney to make things clear-cut. Clearly, there is a demand for old Star Wars books and Disney can easily argue how this book diverges purchases away from their official works. I’m honestly surprised the lawyer team hasn’t moved in for the kill yet. This isn’t exactly filling the bill for being transformative, it’s not a parody and you could argue it is diverging profit away from official Star Wars books. It might not be the most sensible move on their part regarding PR, but Disney hasn’t really given one flying fuck about that when it comes to Star Wars. Maybe this is flying under their radar.

Sadly, a lot of social media posts I’ve seen pushes Amazon sales as some sort of middle finger towards Disney. This really isn’t how it should be seen, but a number of users have claimed to have purchased the book just because Disney isn’t seeing a dime on it. I find this incongruent. While the old Star Wars is still in demand, this work isn’t the actual old Star Wars.  It was still made to fit a mould that it was never intended to be in. This is contradictory in spirit, but I guess buying an edited Lostworlds Star Wars novel in physical form is deemed a worthwhile effort. As a side note, Lostworlds refers to numerous unpublished, cancelled or lost pieces of Star Wars media. The name was coined by Kevin Furman for his site, until it went down in 2004  someone on the Jedi Council Forums, though Kevin Furman was the first one to collect all the information for this site, which went down in 2004. Thanks for Kevin to point this out in the comments. The Star Wars Timeline resurrected and continued on with Furman’s efforts to catalogue these lost media.

If I haven’t stated my case on this clear enough, it’s not that the edited version of The Heart of the Jedi has been edited to fit the Expanded Universe. It could’ve been the new or the old, doesn’t matter. It is that the book itself was edited at all. That I can’t support as someone who wants to preserve and archive media in its most original form. To illustrate this in another way, the situation is just like with George Lucas and his Special Editions. They are, after all, “largely” the same movies. Maybe one day we’ll see the original, unedited version of The Heart of the Jedi published on The Star Wars Timeline.

Y’know, I’d be nice if I could center the Featured Images.

10th Anniversary; I still believe you are in league with the butcher

When I started this blog ten years ago I was very much a different person. By design, I haven’t removed any posts. Revised some, but never really removed anything that had content to it. This hasn’t been a personal blog as it was never intended to be. Back when I launched this I was a far more naive person very much in the cumulus of things. The economy was just recovering from the financial crisis and the world seemed to be full of promise. I don’t particularly like to go back and read my old posts, mostly because I genuinely don’t consider anything I’ve done to be worth much anything. It’s an opinion I hold over myself, but rather the lack of success that’s the story of this blog. That too has been by intention, I must admit. From the get-go, I promised not to advertise myself or the blog itself. Linking to Twitter has been the sole exception to this, but that’s another story. Twitter has become more of a dumping ground for pictures and some archival over personal use. If you’ve been reading this blog or followed me on that bluebird site, I’d say you’re hardpressed to say much about the person behind the text. That too has been because of a choice I made early on. The blog in itself was not to be dumping ground of personal ideas, but rather from a point of view. Through the decade the tone and intention have shifted unintentionally as the two personae have made an amalgam. While you’d be hardpressed to find fanboyish reactions from the latter posts, earlier posts are full of those, I’d bet.

In reality, I don’t think I never found a tone for myself or for the blog. I’ve gone from one project to another aimlessly without any feedback from anyone, ultimately having to consider this blog a dead-end hobby that I have kept for no real reason, if we’re honest here. You can find better reading material out there. Hell, the fact that you have required to read makes the whole blogging thing rather archaic in the days when Youtube and podcasts are reigning supreme. I’m a non-Native English speaker, I can’t do either in place of this blog, I’ve tried. My enunciation is terrible, I have a semi-hard accent and I really don’t care about grammar when speaking. That’s something that is also very apparent from the texts I write. I was taught that grammar matters less than the content. If people are getting stuck to the grammar you’re using, they don’t care about the content in the first place. It’s easy to play a grammar Nazi, I do it too. I guess one of the few reasons I’ve kept this blog is that I am slightly dyslexic, and writing has kept me relatively straight when it comes to both reading and writing. I still miss the occasional word or letter here and there while swearing I typed it down, but that’s how it works for me. I skip words.

Few post types have been popular over the years, but I’ve never capitalised on them. There never was any point, as I never intended to make money on blogging. I never had the talent or skill for it. That’s one of the reasons I call this blog worthless for all to see, as there’s not one post that anyone would have paid for me to write or someone to read. Certainly, there are few posts that might be of worth. The Virtual-On retrospective is perhaps the single series of posts that I can honestly admit to adding value even when it’s largely useless and has terrible structure. I’m not sure if people are coming more for the rare image over the content the image is attached to, but I guess if I can make at least one person happy in a week with thousand plus posts I have up, maybe it has been worth it.

To meet with reality, it really hasn’t. What’s the end result of this decade? The rise of healthy macro-economics ended up people being able to drive agendas and products that ultimately were anti-consumer, attacking the market and its consumers with products that would have never been made otherwise. It appears that a healthy economy enables the production of trash products, like the Disney Star Wars movies and they’d still sell. The falling sales of each new entry in that series shows that you can trick the customer only so many times until they are fed up, and with the Wu Flu hammering the economy all of 2020, so many of these corporations pedalling with trash products found themselves in deep shit and in need of kicking people out and subsidising everything they were doing. However, the one thing this blog said from the beginning kept some of the companies in better condition; providers are there to serve the customer.

The core message of this blog, in the end, has to be as follows; If you are in a field of making something that is to be sold, it is your job to make sure it is the best it can be to satisfy the customer. Sometimes this means compromising with your own vision or integrity, sometimes it means the exact opposite. Nobody has to buy your product just as you don’t need to cater to anyone’s whims. You are, ultimately, in a business of customer service. It’s stupidly complicated and with so many opinions and tastes out there, sometimes its the best to be faithful to the product itself, though sometimes that’s a detriment towards the sales. None of this excludes creativity, it’s just the opposite. The best results are yielded when there are competition and limitations. The sheer drive to make something better drives variety and quality, something we don’t see much in modern gaming nowadays due to how much automation is used. This side tangent will make me mention how nobody really makes their own game engines anymore, making all these modern games feel and play very similarly. Nevertheless, a person with true creativity can always find a way to deliver not only what he intended, but also what the customer would want. More often than not, selfish creativity yields little profit.

Electronic gaming, of course, has been the main topic of this blog. Well, perhaps humanity’s play culture would be more fitting, as I made it a sort of passion to cover all sorts of historical curiosities from that Breakdown trilogy of posts to touching upon girls’ games early one. In hindsight, it’s interesting to note that girls’ adventure games have a lot in common with visual novels, with the major difference being that VNs are far heavier on story than play and interaction with the world. Ultimately, I have come to a conclusion that despite the play cultural differences between boys and girls, and by that extension men and women, in video games the difference is far smaller. Competitive gaming attracts a competitive person, and statistics I covered in one of the posts I had statistics on how games like Super Mario Bros. are very much sex-neutral in their userbase. I haven’t seen much modern statistics or analysations on the current trends but with new generations the gap between what sort of games are being consumed and by whom is growing narrower.

I’ll have to say Thank You to people I got to know through Muv-Luv. While I’m terrible at keeping in contact, practically all of the posts when it comes to Visual Novels, especially âge ones, would not have existed without the influence of Gabgrave, Chris, Evan, Jason and the rest of the romp. Yes, even the friendships that got cut because of differences in worldviews. I cherish you all still, despite all of you haven’t heard from me for some time. In the same breath, sorry to Froggy AKA A9 for pestering him to cover my ass with those Trek posts. Go check his stuff out.

I have asked this from myself for a few years now; What’s the point? Do I want to keep writing this blog still? It has become a habit, a chore of sorts. I’d like to think I’m doing this out of altruism and there’s some worth in there, hidden in plain sight for someone to take notice and appreciate it, but I’m realistic enough to admit that’s a childish, utopian thought. You can only go so far without getting anything back, and I stopped gaining anything from blogging a long time ago. I don’t mean that in any monetary manner or valuables. It depresses me to say this, but I’d like to quit. However, at the same time, I have found writing something, even something worthless like this blog, to be a rather nice pastime. As much as it has become a chore, it’s also become a habit. To reconcile between the two opposing wants, I’ve decided to ditch the notion of having any sort of schedules. This has, if anything, lead me kicking the dead horse over and over.

I’ve been wanting to give a shot at writing fiction for some time now. That needs its own blog though, I won’t start mixing here. Perhaps with this, I can disregard that knacking feeling of letting nonexistent readers down. Ten years of mostly consistent posting of text nobody really reads amounts to nothing, doesn’t it? Have I ever shown you new ideas or approaches as I intended? Has any of my retrospectives added to the overall wealth of knowledge on the Internet? The topics themselves surely haven’t helped any. Have any of my reviews given any information for someone deciding on a purchase? I don’t know. The lack of any kind of feedback, while never bothered me, ultimately showcased how insignificant this blog is. Sure, I never made big numbers in readers, I never intended to, but again, deep down I wished there was something of worth in there.

Perhaps, ultimately, all this has been a useless exercise despite all the good it has done to me personally. It sounds so pitiful, but that’s how it works. Some of us are just so small no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we pour our hearts into something, it’ll never be good enough for the people out there. I should have been more ambitious, should have made more connections, spread the word around far more and advertised that this little corner of the Internet exists. It’s not admirable to admit that all the things I’ve missed are of my own fault. It’s just the reality of things. All that said, I should not look for validation outside to any significant extent. That’s the child mindset I keep battling against, as well as the whole not having any self-confidence. I should not give one penny how things go or look to others if I’m having a blast myself and entertaining myself. This was supposed to be a hobby, not something that’d stress or undermine.

Things have to change, and rather than pressing for posts twice a week without no heart in them, I’ll be putting more heart in those posts and returning to topics and posts that I’ve left in the backburner for far too long. Maybe I’ll get to spend a Saturday or Sunday without having to stress over what to write about for once. I’ll get some time to get some drawing commission done and that eleven kilos of books on the scanner. No more Monhtly Music posts, those were a bad idea to begin with and haven’t served a purpose with less time on my hands to plan anything properly. I don’t want to be hampered by the word count limits anymore either, so that goes out of the window. Still, I’d like to practice some level of control over how bloated these posts end up being.

Nevertheless, I truly am grateful for all of you who have read any of the posts during this last decade. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a kernel or a spark of something you found interesting. Maybe that’s all for the time being.

 

Is that based on real science?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitsurugi and his replacement for regions with censorship regarding Japanese imagery

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

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

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

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

An iconic pairing on both sides of the sea

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

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

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

Chairman Kaga and his Iron Chefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price hikes, brands fighting and other musings about streaming

Back when I was a pupil at a blacksmith’s the one thing I learned the most is that the cheapest thing you produce often makes the best profit. In our case, it was a necklace, a hammered iron cross on a leather strap. In reality, the piece was laser cut from a generic steel sheet that we just heated up and gave some texture. Cost about twenty cents to produce, sold for about twenty to thirty euro. We sold those enough to warrant a new batch on a weekly basis. People might be unwilling to pay fifteen euros for a handmade handle for a door or a forty for a bottle stand you can attach to a wall, but jewelry always sells higher. Jewelry always sells, it’s something people get and understand. Its value is hammered into the people’s minds from a very young age, pun not intended. While this isn’t the razor-razor blade sales model, where you sell something big and expensive at a loss in order to sell something smaller multiple times, like a razor and its edges, selling people stuff they perceive is valuable at a proper price is far more lucrative. Drop that price a little lower, and you can slowly but surely rack that up once you’ve established how the customers see that price and understand the value you intend for it.

Streaming has become largely the new television. While we still talk about “series,” the word has again transformed to mean something else with streaming. It’s barely serialized anymore in its traditional sense, but I guess we can apply it just fine as these twelve-hour long movies are still chopped into twelve episodes. Television might not go anywhere in the foreseeable future, but consumers will find their chosen entertainment from streaming. Perhaps television will be relegated more towards serious matters like news and such, but before I see that happening, I hope I’m buried six feet under. With people being forced to stay inside and their other liberties being culled in order to battle the Shanghai Shivers, all these streaming platforms have been making a bank. They’ve got a whole year under their belt to get new customers in and assure that what they offer is essential and important. In some eyes, theirs is an essential service.

Just like how we could hike up the price of that piece of steel by giving it a perceived value as a piece of jewelry, streaming services want their service to be seen as the most valued. The only true way they can compete is with IPs, with Netflix amassing everything under the sun that Disney hasn’t, turning it into a cartoon and calling it anime. Netflix Originals, which often have nothing original in them, is their best bet alongside numerous other IPs they are able to showcase thanks to overseas licensing deals. Disney+ has that whole Disney library under its belt, and they’re desperately trying to make Star Wars work. Warner-Brothers movies are going to appear on HBO Max, because the theatres are still closed and they have to make money in some way. Amazon is coming out with that The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time series sometime in the future. Apple TV or whatever their own service was called were was to have The Foundation series, but that looked like a trainwreck from the start and anything but The Foundation. It looked like a generic SF war series. With modern television series, and by extension all the streaming series, looking just as good as the movies in the cinemas, something has to buckle. That something of course is the customers’ wallets.

Disney announced recently that Disney+’s subscription will hike up in price next March, as they are restructuring themselves to market their products directly to the customers through their streaming service. They’re not the only ones either. Hulu and Netflix joined the club and most likely everyone else will follow suit, assuming move high-budget movies and shows will be produced to battle for the consumer’s wallet. Weirdly enough, one service finds itself with too many subscribers, that might end up causing further price hikes thanks to needing more hardware infrastructure behind the scenes to make all things work as intended. In any case, it will be easier for these services to raise the price every now and then once the perception and their place in entertainment consumption have found its true footing, which probably means traditional television dies slowly out and movie theatres become something else. Maybe they become places for prestige showings, where you can finally eat a pizza or a burger in, or maybe they’ll manage to eke out a niche to live in.

This is a format war like we never had before. Prior to streaming wars, even if one format won over others, none of these big companies ended up pocketing most of the money from the consumers directly to their pocket. The information age has now allowed for companies finally to sidestep formats and the limitations they pose for them, i.e. they finally have full control of the media the consumer consumes but can not own at any point, and thus maximize the money they pocket. In that, this isn’t a format war but something new. While some moan how there are more than few streaming services out there, they’re ignoring the sheer danger of streaming monopoly would have. Some argue that Disney and Netflix share the media streaming monopoly and should be broken up. General consumers are quick to trade security and variety for comfort and ease of use. If one or just two services survive, all the eggs are in one basket and the consumer rights are very easily trampled on. However, because streaming is direct-to-customers with nothing in between, like it was with previous formats, there’s nothing holding them back from exercising the utmost bullshit corporate tactics they are able to employ.

Perhaps streaming services should get a similar frontend similar to television, where all services are gathered under one streaming device or program through which the customer can decide what to watch. Perhaps some of these streaming services would be free and be run on advertisements, maybe a few of them are government-run for news and other information bites. The consumer might be able to then pay for special services that they specifically want to watch without losing that comfort of having everything under one roof. You could either label these streaming services with a number or a letter for easier access too, though just listing them in alphabetical order probably would do just fine. Now, why does this idea sound familiar? I wonder…

October downtime

Due to current things going on, mainly me moving to my own home, I’ve decided that October will be downtime period. Regular updates return in about a month. In the meanwhile, do enjoy this great cover of Quarterly Magazine Uchusen #74 from 1995. You can also access some older posts to read again from the menu above.

Sick and tired of the PR game

I deeply dislike the PR game any and all companies play. I hate to bring Star Wars up so often, but it’s a solid example of it, and one of the most recent. When Kathleen Kennedy said that Star Wars didn’t have books and comics to adapt from, that was a PR statement in itself to confirm and instil the notion of abandoning what Star Wars had been up to that point and everything from that point onwards would be completely new and proper. Everyone knows this is horse shit, as the 1990s was a golden age of Star Wars media with the explosion of Expanded Universe books and games hitting the shelf one after another, and George Lucas wanting to test the waters with the movie event without the movie, Shadows of the Empire. Kennedy’s statement was first and foremost for PR for people who didn’t want to read these old stories or didn’t like them. All these moves were, after all, to alienate the audience of the classic Star Wars stories in order to replace them with a newer, more hip audience. As it has been often stated, gaining a new audience from scratch is much harder and time-consuming than keeping your old one. Building those emotional connections and brand associations take time and money, which all this PR was aiming for. Star Wars was to be easily accessible again, despite it never needed more than a cursory knowledge of the setting. At most, to get any Star Wars media, the only movie fully necessary to watch is the first one. Star Wars is not a hard franchise to understand and give a crack at, but it is an extremely hard franchise to write for and build from consistently, as Disney and new Lucasfilm staff would find out.

Disney’s new continuity with Star Wars wouldn’t last too long. Reintroducing characters from the abandoned Expanded Universe like Admiral Thrawn as fan service were first cracks on the armour, as that was against the previous public statements. Rather than foraging towards something new and creating their new Star Wars Kathleen Kennedy was applauding early on and driving towards to, Disney Lucasfilm had begun to dig up characters and concepts from the abandoned Expanded Universe, which was turned into a Legacy canon that existed alongside the current continuity rather than being unceremoniously dumped as initially announced. Little bits of backpedalling here and there showcase that despite the cut-and-dry statements and intentions, Disney really wanted to keep the old fans in as well with these small chips of bacon thrown in. I’d argue the moment we first saw Disney acknowledging something was up with Star Wars success was when Thrawn was re-introduced, as that meant the new ideas that were being realised didn’t work, which would turn out to be a hard reality with each new movie seeing fewer revenues at the box office. I would be amiss of course if I didn’t mention that the PR game Lucasfilm was playing, with their whole The Force is Female shirt stunt and loudly driving political views and agendas alongside attacking consumers and customers all the while capitulating to the Chinese demands, as exemplified by the whole poster scandal off Finn’s size being shrunk. Chinese markets were supposed to make money, but seeing the Chinese don’t have a history with Star Wars unlike the Japanese and prefer wholly different kind of aesthetics, the success was less than desired. With the SARS-COV-19 making rounds, Disney is in need to look back into the US and European markets and cut their losses as much as possible, including their PR failures with Star Wars.

No media company can afford to make PR statements just for the sake of politics at the moment. People are losing their jobs, money is tight and people are not willing to join crowds in fear of infection (at least in most cases.) Kennedy has to play the PR game, despite her role having been constantly shrinking with Star Wars and other people taking her role in other productions, as it was with The Mandalorian. Kennedy had to backpedal her earlier statement about Star Wars’ media about a week back, making the very opposite statement she originally made, speaking about 40-years of Star Wars media and playing into the long-time fans’ corner, but also trying to play to the new audience’s corner by trying to introduce them as something new, as something “unheard of.” With Star Wars still in the red after Lucasfilm acquisition, acquiring that new audience failed rather damn hard all the whole alienating the old fans was a successful move, and Disney hurting for money, the PR game had to change. Making profit has become the priority again after a decade long growth curve in macro-economics, the sudden change has shown that these short-term plans have backfired massively. Disney nor any other company can afford to do whatever they want at whatever price. The money was never there for them to do whatever they wanted in whatever manner, but people had the extra money to throw at them. Now they don’t and they’re hurting. Kennedy, Lucasfilm and Disney can’t turn their coats in an instant, it has to be eased in and slowly, but surely, turn Star Wars back to something that would make money despite the personal feelings and stances of the creators themselves. A massive company has to consider their actions and the results in a far more careful manner, while individuals can throw their shit in whichever direction in a moment’s notice. For example, recently Jon St. John, best known as the voice actor of Duke Nukem, made a statement that was fast deleted. Naturally, an apology referring to the tweet was made without giving proper context what was said in what manner, but the PR game demanded it, with reinforcement of his account is going to be all about fun stuff. Statements made in anger are no less a PR disaster than statements made by Kenndy regarding Star Wars media. Pro-rape position and media giant fucking up are not exactly on the same level, but they’re both examples of the PR game on different levels. High-level PR game takes time and works slowly, it works on the consumer perception with each statement and tries to slowly turn the head of the consumer toward its own benefit. Low-level PR game is all about the moment’s heat, and often ends careers.

They’re both bullshit no matter how you turn it around though. The PR game’s intentions and attempts at changing the perception of the customer work wonders when you have the emotional connection, allowing people to justify almost anything as long as the provider has made some kind of argument, or have appealed to the emotion, in a manner that makes sense to the individual. Sometimes you can afford to make hard statements, something that most of your customers and the larger market might agree on, but not all the time. Even then, it’s probably best to simply not get involved in certain matters at all, as explicit sentiments can backfire in a very hard manner, pushing customers away towards competition. When you’re playing the PR game, you shouldn’t assume that all the customers will agree or want you to join the mob or make certain kind of statements, especially with entertainment media. Disney and numerous other companies have been hurt by their mismanaged PR as they’ve entered their brands into politics and agendas, and now that nobody’s spending money, all this is biting their asses. Yet the game has to be played and course directions have to be taken. The world shouldn’t be grabbed by superpowered flu in order for corporations to begin to serve their customers and aim for the long term, stable profits instead of short term gains that always leave something to be desired for.

Pushing back the machines will not last forever

While I’ve touched on automatics on a rare occasion regarding future of production, and how pretty much everything can be automated to some extent to deliver similar products for the end-users to enjoy, there’s a topic I’ve mostly gleamed over; present workers don’t really want automation. While automation is the future, and slowly we’re finding ourselves being replaced by machines in every field. Grocery shopping is one of my favourite examples, where automated cashiers have become more and more common. A row of machines is able to serve more customers than a similar amount of human cashiers. Even when we factor in how much time an individual spends in an automated cashier, sometimes bumbling around, the effectiveness is undeniable. Few workers just overlooking the customers doing the job someone else once had.

Nobody likes to lose their job, less so when it’s to a damned machine. People who are against automation taking over jobs and done work aren’t Luddites. It’s about pragmatism considering their own life and overall health of the local workforce, which then affects economy at large. Automate much too fast, and the local economy will suffer from falling buying power due to increased unemployment. While we can automate, the equation has to be balanced between available work power and absolute necessity. The rate of production automation is always higher compared to manual labour, but there are cases where that amount of production is not needed, or desirable. Currently, many production companies are suffering from low order volumes due to SARS-COV-19 going around the planet. Plants that have high amount of automation will stand empty for longer times than the ones employing manual labour. Not running your machines in itself is costly, but depending on the manufacturing it might be the cheaper alternative.

For corporations, and in the end for the costumers, automation is a no-brainer option. Automated production often ends up spewing out products out faster with no real variety in quality. The only pieces where you’ll find errors in automation is mostly due to in the natural variety in materials. Some plastics are superior to others, thus the same machine may end up producing lower quality plastic cups to another that’s using lower quality plastic. Harvesters have large amount of heavy steel parts to them, like their booms, and these already have large amount of variety in quality due to the parts their are assembled from. Automation can remove the difference of quality to some extent, but no part is ever the same size, realistically speaking. In order to gain perfect copies of the same product time after time, even through automation, would yield high costs to the point of no customer would be willing to buy any. I’m veering off the point here.

Understanding that people don’t want to lose their jobs doesn’t take much. Be it in whatever field, there is always a movement against automation that replaces humans. You’ll never get the human element out, you still need someone to look over what’s happening and fix when shit goes wrong (or stuff are lit to fire.) There has been multitudes of arguments ranging from impossibility of automating something to appealing for the sake of humanity. To some, automation is the devil that is killing creativity and crafts all the while destroying the value of those products, while to others it is the best and most effective way to reach the demand the customer is putting on them. It has become a necessity, something that has become a must due to modern societies wanting and needing consumable goods faster. There’s no politics in this really, just that people generally expect and want their products, be it food or whatever, at certain pace at a certain rate, which automation is a clear and readily available answer to. There’s also the whole demand the increased population is putting on the scale production, so automation helps in that too. The amount of work needed to do is just that much higher compared to few hundred years ago, and automation will have to advance in the future further.

What you may end up seeing is slowing down automation for the sake of the workers. This will of course means overall profits and the sales for the company will be limited by the amount of work the workforce is doing. It becomes a balancing issue, where the workers don’t want automation to replace them, but not many workers would like to increase their workload either without increase in pay. In a way, production has always been an issue with the corporation heads and the workforce. It’s a delicate balancing issue that automation has disrupted. It’d be easy to set yourself on the workers’ side and malign automation, but reality’s not that kind. Everyone wants to increase the amount of dough they make compared to the amount of work they do, which often means the worker often wants to do less work for higher salary, while the execs would like to increase rate of production with as little rise to the costs. These two ends are at odds with each other, but the customer demand just rocks the boat.

Cars replacing horses did create a whole new industry and new places to work in. Whether or not automation will do the same is slightly under scrutiny. Learning to code seems to be the future in many ways, though somebody has to still put all these robots together. Rather than these fields of work vanishing completely as automation slowly runs over, they’ll become yet another form of craftsmanship that is always in demand in niche amounts, but high in pay. The demand will always be there on some level. Skills like welding won’t be out of demand as long as it is used as a method of production, but at some point welding robots will overtake the human workers. We’ll end up with people who have to look for something else as their job, and the generation now training for the job will find themselves needing new skills down the line. The current workforce, however, would like to see that pushed back as much as they can, as that would ensure their own job for the foreseeable future. Humans have always been looking for ways to make their life easier and work smoother. Automation is a natural step in this, we’ll just have to find ways to adapt into these new paradigms. While I don’t believe we’ll ever achieve post-scarcity world, automation will cause issues in short-term, in the next few hundred years, until something truly revolutionary comes in play and shifts the paradigm again. As much as some want to fight the machine revolution, humanity’s innate talent in using tools and taking them as far we are able to can’t be denied.

Next time, less this kind of stuff and more about games.

An untitled rant

I fully admit, I have no point with this post. This is more or less thought work for some later post, as the topic really is how both a fandom and the work they are fans of changes with time. This should be evident in itself, clear as a cloudless sky, but what changes this whole thing is how every long-running franchise we have lives in bursts. Bursts seems to be a bit arbitrary term for what is essentially eras, like how we split the history of American comic books into Golden, Silver and Dark Ages and so on. These are, however, too long periods as there were changes during these eras to the comic books, especially to single brand and books that came and went. Take Marvel’s New Universe imprint as an example of a burst. It hit the scene in 1986 and became defunct in 1989. New Universe was about the idea of realistic superheroes, heroes that might be just outside your window. Despite having hard times to properly launch the imprint due to budgets being cut, New Universe sold well and many of the characters have appeared later in the mainline Marvel comics. The reason is was cancelled wasn’t due to lack of sales, but because of internal politics decided to reallocate the workforce for more lucrative and promising titles. A re-imagining of the concept as newuniversal was published in 2007 to celebrate New Universe‘s 20yh anniversary, but from what I gather, the reception was lukewarm. While we can trace New Universe‘s source influences to the usual suspects in the more dark and adult comics of the decade, it is in the end a similar burst in the scene. It didn’t really have much effect on the overall comic scene, as the 1990’s eXtreme comics were anything but realistic. More brutal for sure, lacking some of that down-to-earth material 1980’s brought with it in titles like American Flagg and Watchmen.

New Universe itself may not have been an influence to the larger comic industry, but its initial pitch was. The mastermind behind New Universe, Jim Shooter, had originally proposed to cancel all then-current Marvel books and reboot the whole thing. This was rejected, but would later be put into action in a modified form as the Ultimate imprint. All-new, All Different would later realise Marvel’s first proper reboot, though its end -result setting with modified timeline is open to debate regarding its quality and intentions.

Comics change things all the time and we have these bursts that may change them wholesale. Sometimes it does leave long-standing influence, sometimes it doesn’t. Nevertheless, each time the comics have changed and the fans have to take as it comes.

That is not to say the fans are inanimate objects that buy everything their favourite brand shits out. There are those who fall into the trap of consumerism based on creators or brands, but as we saw with the fall of American comic industry in the 1990’s with the near destruction of the market, consumers don’t exactly go on all fours and beg to be creamed. After all the cover gimmicks, the hikes in prices for no other reason other than they could be upped, destruction of classic characters and them being replaced with carbon copies, rampant and constant crossovers across multiple titles and ultimately the sheer lack of quality content towards the end pushed everyone but the hardest of the core away. It didn’t help that during the first decade of the new millennium, Japanese comics were becoming more and more mainstream entertainment among a generation ready to pick up comics and read.

Entertainment doesn’t need to reflects its time or era. Often a work that is heavy on pop-culture humour gets old within few years, as such referential humour is relevant only for that moment in time. Unsurprisingly, most media is tethered to the era when it was made in. We can’t expect some science fiction movie made in the 1950’s to have the same level of polish and effects as we have now. Yet, outside the mechanical and technical advancements, the writing and acting can be still trump modern works just by sheer quality. Technically speaking, we may have better education and far more information in our hands compared to the works of old, but what’s the point of all that if they aren’t being utilised and used for their full effect? We can do anything with modern technology in entertainment, yet that limitless potential hinders us. With no limitations to break, there is no innovation and creative thinking. Just ideas thrown unto the paper and then realised, little of value created. To use an example, George Lucas’ legacy isn’t Star Wars, it’s the technology to allow film makers to realise their visions with all the technology he and ILM have pioneered during the last forty years. None of the modern blockbusters, or perhaps even CG as we known it nowadays, would be if not for the techniques and mechanism explored and realised in the late 1970’s and 1980’s.

Special effects, however, is not why thing like Star Wars became popular or a phenomena. The Star Wars debuted in the right time at the right place. Movies like it were not made at the time any more. Both adults and children got caught by the relatively simple story and its characters. The movie’s approach with a documentary style filming gave Star Wars the gravitas it needed, intricate model work helping in giving everything that lived in atmosphere. New faces with no attached career defined the characters. Despite all the problems with the production, of which we know so much due to the sheer amount of documentation made of it, Star Wars was a movie that was needed. The only reason why modern some argue that Star Wars movies are influential only when you watch them as a child is because we have so many other works that are made in similar swash-buckling adventure form with high spirit and a positive view on the world. Star Wars isn’t unique in the grand scale of movie history, with it following old movie serials and it being mimicked to hell and back, but it still stands apart from the rest with the sheer quality and agelessness it has.

Even Star Wars changed with time, though. I’d argue the end of Star Wars didn’t start with the Phantom Menace, but with The Shadows of the Empire. Possibly earlier. While some claim to be able to pin point the moment when a franchise or a brand dies, e.g. The Simpson‘s ThePrincipal and the Pauper, this progress takes longer time and can be doomed by a successful piece as well. Shadows of the Empire was a successful non-movie movie event, with the story franchised into toys and other stuff a movie usually has. However, after that there was a significant decline of quality in Star Wars related works, which also arguably applies to the Prequel trilogy as well. Disney’s purchase and subsequent release of their own reboot has shown that you can still make some money on Star Wars, but with modern popular culture being filled to the brim with its spiritual descendants, of which some do Star Wars better than Star Wars itself, the audience will opt for the better piece. The constant falling sales of Disney Star Wars has shown that there is no more demand for that franchise, at least not in its current form, or the form it has been since the late 1990’s. It’s not that the fans of those golden days have gone anywhere, but the franchise has changed. The successful burst Star Wars enjoyed are no longer there, each of them having less and less impact.

Similarly, while there are Star Wars-like works out there, modern Star Trek is suffering from replicating the works that were considered anti-Star Trekin their days, like the newer version of Battle Star Galactica. Television and film was already chock full of darker and grittier science fiction to an unhealthy degree. Even Deep Space Nine could be described as a deconstruction of Star Trek‘s core, but that’s actually intentional. It tested what the Roddenberrian ideals were and if they could survive when they were put under fire, and the end result was that they would. Modern Trek has all but abandoned Roddenberry’s ideal future in exchange of turning it into a platform for the writers and showrunners, as mentioned by Alex Kurtzman in their recent Comic Con recording. This burst in Star Trek means that it has changed its nature and intentions to something that has already saturated the market in this age of science fiction being less popular than in the past. Modern Star Trek is a good example of a product being changing its nature and another product filling its niche. The Orville, in all honesty, is a paler version of Star Trek with lesser writing compared to what it emulates, but if it is the only player on the market and delivering what fans want, it’s burst will be more notable. Fans won’t blindly follow to the swamp. Sometimes a facsimile is more than enough and can then become its own thing. Just look at all the Japanese RPGs that shot out from Ultima and Wizardry.

So time changes both the providers and the fans. Sometimes things change to the degree that future works simply supplant and replace what has come before, like what has happened to Tarzan. A classic franchise and worthy of visiting for sure, but it has no true place in modern culture. It has been revisited by superior works and it has been renewed for new audiences time and time again. Nevertheless, it has become obsolete. Whether or not Tarzan could capture modern audiences is unknown, but perhaps something in its vain will strike true with an audience that hasn’t been exposed to it.

That is also a sort of issue with long-running franchises. We have the works of old still in our hands. Despite us changing and the franchises changing, we can go back and read or watch the original works we fell in love with time and time again to the point of growing bored of them. We can explore a work only so far, until we have to move forwards to other venues. Returning to well explored work sometimes makes us meet with the grim reality of change, as we ultimately weigh media differently. A favourite movie we haven’t seen in a decade might turn out to be a dud on a rewatch, a book that defined your teen years turns out to be full of gringe.

Media industries and their franchises do have to change with time to meet new demands. Nothing can stay the same all the time. It is an impossible balancing act trying to cater to fans that have always been there while trying to expand to the younger audiences. Simply relying on a recognisable name won’t make the market turn to you, not nowadays. The Internet changed the way these brands compete, and the sheer amount of options out there are insane. The amount of bursts in our media landscape have become so many, that we see nothing but bursts.

I guess the point with this stream of mind is that changing a franchise to fit its time is incredibly difficult, but so is creating something new from the scratch. Old story in itself, but whenever we have these new hands on old IPs changing it in a way that pushes fans away that have been there for decades, something else will turn out and nab them. No, maybe it’s the other way around; fans are seeing what’s done within these franchises at the moment, and choose to walk away to spend their time and money on something else. Sometimes its on the old stuff, sometimes its on something else.

Perhaps it’s all service issue, in the end. Creators can do anything they like, but so can customers. There’s no agreement that either one needs to appease another, but generally you’d like make some money with your works. Well, meeting expectations and demands is often a good starting point over abandoning the spirit of the work. Worst of all, sometimes fans find themselves abandoning even the old works, effectively losing their fanaticism towards the overall franchise. That’s a mark of a franchise that’s both dying and becoming irrelevant. Be it comic books, games or movies, when consumers walk away, they will find something else.

Fans do it the best

Retroblasting has been saying this for a while now, and it’s largely true. While that’s all about the toys, the same applies to everything across industries, from music to electronic games to translation and so on. It’s either how fans archive and release printed material in a higher resolution in a more accurate form, or recreate toys that toy manufacturers simply miss or won’t make. Fantranslations are a good example of  this whole shebang, with some comics and books getting translations that would never get otherwise. Sometimes with better translation than the official translation. Even in music you have tons and tons of music creators, separate from the industry’s mass releasing their own tapes. When the mainstream industries fail to deliver, it’s the fans who take up the mantle to develop and produce goods that all the other people want, but for whatever reason none of the industry providers are willing. Sometimes small miracles happen, like the Snyder Cut getting a release. For better or worse, the customer is being served based on their want.

Even with games you have the whole indie scene, which is less indie nowadays with all the storefronts’ corporations effectively working as the de-facto publishers. The concept of independent releases has become, effectively speaking, not part of any big-name corporation. Nevertheless, there are niches left and right that are open and people are stepping in an attempt to fill them. The video and computer game market has never been as saturated with games as it is now. The quantity is absolutely insane with quality being worse than E.T. to sometimes striking home runs like no other. Though as it often turns out, even when these original IPs get around may become successes, filling niches left open by the big boys in the industry, often you see and hear fans wanting something from the real IP.

Pokémon might be a good example of fans not exactly taking up the challenge to make a completely new IP that would realise their wants (there has been multiple titles that have attempted this, none have succeeded) but rather heavily modifying the existing games to the extents of making the games almost unrecognisable from their original versions. While Moemon is a representative of just general sprite switching, something like Crystal Clear represents how there’s a want and a niche for fully open, independent adventuring in Pokémon. The game changes Pokémon Crystal in a way that it opens the map as a whole, allows the player to choose his starting position, 24 Starters instead of being limited to the base three, significant character customisation alongside numerous improvements. The way the open world is handled is by scaling the Gym and Trainer battles according to the player’s own stats, e.g. by beating Gym A you increase opponent stats across the game. There are numerous other improvements as well, like each Pokémon having their own unique field sprite.

Of course, when discussing mods, we can’t really forget Bethesda and how fans are actually making their games functional. Bethesda’s games are known to be riddled with bugs. There are people who have never played a vanilla Bethesda game, as the bug fixes the fans make correct and fix sometimes game breaking errors that, for whatever reason, Bethesda has never bothered correcting themselves. A rather famous bug in Skyrim happens to be that the animals are able to make criminal reports of the player, but this has never been officially fixed, despite the bug mentioned in an interview prior to the game’s release. You also have fans increasing Bethesda’s games resolutions and improving models and so on. At some point you can say fans are recreating Bethesda’s games through mods and fixes better than what they originally were.

With scans and translations there are issues with the legality of the thing. Sometimes a fantranslation can impact whether or not something gets an official English release, sometimes scanlation projects get shot down due to releasing scanned materials being spread around. Sidestepping the issue of making money on fan made translations via donations, these fans are effectively hitting the market with products that aren’t otherwise available. That’s the crux of the whole thing, in the end. There is a demand for something, yet they’re not being fulfilled to any extent.

Perhaps the last example of fans making the best returns to Retroblast’s corner with model kits. Fans making recasts of old model kits has been a thing as long as model kits have been around, with various results. Funnily enough, nowadays fans are making recasts of other fans products, as there have been numerous examples of someone making a desirable resin cast kit, but for whatever reason does not want to ship to other regions. Thus, sometimes another fan takes their work, makes recasts of it elsewhere and begins sales in other regions. Recasting has become extremely effective with time, as modern silicone moulds are able to capture every single detail on the original model, even the shape of dust particles. Fans are also making accessories and conversion kits, allowing the customers to have niche or rare kind of piece that isn’t being produced. Easy example for this would be some of the Gundam conversion kits, which allow the builder to buy a modern style model, but change parts to represent an older design of the same robot. Of course, some times these conversion kits cost an arm and a leg due to extremely limited production numbers and high material costs.

The fans aren’t limited by the same end intention of profits, not to the same degree. They should be compensated for the time and work they’ve put into products they’re delivering, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of the property holders. Considering the advancements we’ve made in engineering code and moulds, there should be no real reason why the stores could have high quality products. However, the drive to maximise profits while minimising cost is one of the many reasons why, for example, modern toy aisles are full mediocre products and low-tier retro replicas. Then again, maybe it’s for the best for the fans to keep things going when the big corporations aren’t. It promotes new talent and creates new venues for people to make business and connections. In its own way, it also promotes slight competition and showing that things could be done better; this is what your fans are wanting and expecting.