American localisation is global

With the recent hubbub NISA’s staff making statements about localisation in a stream and then giving respond statement, maybe it’d be time to open an issue about translation again. NISA doesn’t have a clean track record with their game releases, not by far. From game breaking bugs because of newly inserted text to removed audio all the way to completely inaccurate translations and renaming characters for the sake of memes and jokes, NISA’s translations are pretty much the Funimation of game world. Despite the translators mentioning that they need to localise the jokes to make sense in the culture they are translating them into, they seem to miss the point that NISA’s published games have very much targeted audience and a certain niche that isn’t culturally ignorant. These people don’t consider one bit that the English translation they’re doing will be used globally, not just in the US.

Of course they don’t consider this an issue. No English translator I’ve seen to date outside some small independent fan-translators do. NISA’s staff thinking that they need to localise the work they’re given to translate to be along the lines of the culture the game is being published in is laughable not only because that means they’re taking the original work and modifying its meaning and intention, but also that this culturalisation in the end means end-users have to think the games’ text from the point of view of American culture as these people see it. What passes fitting in the US or has cultural significance most often makes jack shit sense in the rest of the world. The British may speak the same language, but the culture is very much a different beast, and it only grows the more different a language goes. It’s distrusting the audience and considering them low-intelligence if you think you have to take special measures to make game’s localisation culturally fitting. If you’re going to that length, you might as well start calling rice balls jelly doughnuts.

Pokémon cartoon is an example where things were taken the whole way through and not half-assing it. Localising everything about a cartoon isn’t exactly uncommon, especially considering the target audience is children. Further down the line, other countries used the English translation as the basis for their translation, some opting to change English names to local ones. The 4KIDS version of the show was censored for sure, removing instances of violence, profanities removed, Japanese text removed and replaced (something the Japanese show runners became aware down the line and begun using in-world script) as well as banned episodes. 4KIDS localisations can be understood as their shows were for children, and children get special treatment in what they should consume. Certainly this went overboard in some cases, but again, children. Unlike with the games NISA is localising, which are aimed towards a more adult audience, despite some titles having lower age rating.

The audience that consumers games that NISA localises and publishes wants as close and accurate translations as possible without losing well scripted and idiomatic English. The same applies of Visual Novel fans, where the translation is even more important. Some video game fans seemingly take low-tier translations willy nilly, like how Bandai Namco’s Asian English translations begun with absolutely terrible quality, and how most translated Japanese mobile games use terminology that makes no sense.  Games as a standard have always had terrible translations, and NISA isn’t helping any with their takes.

However, understanding English doesn’t mean you understand the culture or its stances. In some cases, Americanisation, ends up being offensive to other cultures that end up having that same translation. Are these countries expected to understand this because the translators decided the Japanese original wasn’t fitting their culture? Should these countries then take the translation and make a new one to fit their own nation’s culture? That happens rather often, if we’re completely fair, but it doesn’t fix the underlying issue with the English translation still. This is surprisingly evident in Quiz games or games with quiz minigames that don’t get re-localised from their US translation. Too many times you come across quizzes that are very America-centric and pick up cultural motifs from there, disregarding most of the world. Mega Man Legends 2‘s quiz minigame is surprisingly good example of properly localised minigame, as it recognised the global release and has more questions about global history than anything specific to the Americas.

The Pokte Village Quiz is fun to do without any cheats because it isn’t stuck to cultural notions. Some questions may be a bit genre specific (like the ones about music), but overall it is surprisingly timeless. Also, the girl on the left was used for Yai(to) in the Battle Network series

This might not be a major issue in the end, but something I can’t see any American translator thinking about. When talking about localising text culturally, nobody has raised this global issue. We don’t have global culture. Even on the Internet, despite the unspoken etiquette there tends to be, it’s site-by-site what sort of culture of action there is. Other websites allow whatever to go free, while others require strict rules of behaviour and action. Even such small things as discussion groups via Skype or Discord have their own cultures, but none of these have one, all-encompassing culture.

With this, it could be argued that leaving the text to be more culturally related to Japan in tone, be it more sexualised for example, would be optimal way to go. It would sidestep most of criticism NISA and other similarly translating companies get, but also would trust that the main audience, which in NISA’s case are people who are already relatively well acquainted with Japanese culture via other forms of media, but also would offer cultural enrichment for the rest of the mainstream consumers who might end up buying their games by happenstance. There should be nothing wrong in being exposed to other cultures and how they function and what their values are. Text might offend, but it doesn’t hurt. It makes business sense to localise and lessen any chances of people being offended, that makes more sales. It rarely hoes hand-in-hand with whatever artistic merit one might want to coin to translations. It’s not like translations should be treated as objective texts to translate rather than a platform to rewrite and insert translator’s own thoughts and ideas over the original author, but that’s exactly what localisation ends up doing. Translators often stand next to a slippery slope, looking down and wonder how small step it takes to become Funimation.

Modern displays can’t represent the reality of old

I’m not sure where the notion of CRT screen being worse than flat screen came about, initially. I can surmise that this is the case of usual old-tech being outed by new and shiny one, and marketers always want to push the newflanged thing as the best thing ever all while putting down the old stuff. Y’know, like the articles about Star Trek: Picard are calling The Next Generation old and outdated. Looking at the modern screens we have nowadays, even the ones I’m looking at right now, we’re still lacking in many ways that a good ol’ tube isn’t. It’s all about those colours, refresh rate and sheer quality of image.

I can’t really say that a CRTs got the proper end of the stick, tech-wise. All they had at the time was comparatively low-quality image to showcase. A VHS tape didn’t exactly push CRT’s image quality all that much. People talking about the fuzzy look on those screens was always more about the lacking quality of the medium rather than the quality of the screen itself. I have to admit that I only realised this after the fact, after putting a movie spinning from a Laserdisc in a showcase to some people via CRT. The image quality was, not to overstate, a shocker to some. The image wasn’t fuzzy and there was definition they didn’t remember. This wasn’t just some connection via RF or RC cables, but from BNC to RGB SCART via build-in adapter. The technology itself holds up, but what’s lacking is the standards for connectivity. No CRT screen I know of has, for example, HDMI ports or the like. Even if there were, it’d require some kind of adapter or decoder change the signal something the screen would understand, as we’re again speaking two different technological ways of transferring images. An analogue end rarely accepts digital source without some form of adaption, and vise versa. Often there’s some confusion how things should really look like, which is why so many times an old output device looks wrong on a modern screen. Correct aspect ratio is a thing so many people still just don’t get. It’d be neat to see a CRT designed around modern day standards. Completely doable, but also far more expensive than flat screens.

The latency between a CRT and modern flat screens is touchable. When it comes to gaming, old consoles expect the screen to respond to input actions as fast as the console can send its signals. Modern screen latency that isn’t present with CRTs, and often you end up seeing an image that’s notably late compared to what’s actually happening inside the machine. Modern games are actively working around the latency by delaying inputs and actions, and this adds up with games like Tekken 7 actively simulating network environment lag as well with input delays. Effectively, modern games expect the player to react to something that’s already happened in the game’s logic rather than what’s happening at that precise moment. This is why so many people who emulate NES titles like Battletoads find themselves in trouble, when fast-paced stages like Turbo Tunnel requires much faster reaction time than they would if played via CRT. Arino of Game Center CX would probably see his gaming performance getting better, if he would use a CTR instead a cheap LCD screen. Then again, scripted shows and all that.

GCCX fans of course know that they originally did have a CRT and have gone through numerous flat screen through the years

Outside the whole refresh rate/response time dick waggling competition, the one thing CRTs still have over any modern screen tech is the existence of true blacks and whites, as well as true colours. Why do you remember the colours being terrible on your CRT way back when? Probably because of NTSC format, which sucked when it came to chroma and colour. NTSC format gained the nickname Never The Same Colour for a reason, and this is the reason. A lot of shows originally encoded in NTSC have high saturation colours, because they’d get whacked during output and would produce whatever the device decided. Despite NTSC running in 60Hz, that’s not exactly a saving grace when PAL had both superior screen resolution and colour. This colours the mental image people have about how well CRTs showcase colour. When you output something modern with better colour coding to a CRT (like PAL60), the results are rather high quality. Not even modern HDR can do the same justice. When properly calibrated, blacks on a decent CRT are true blacks; the lack of light or colour. The same can be said about whites. I admit that most of my life was spent with low-quality CRTs that had glow to them, where certain kind of definition was lost. I could assume this was somewhat common, as later in life with higher-end, more expensive CRTs this glow was absent. Blacks were truly as dark as they were supposed to and colours were as intended. Screen and colour calibration are still important nowadays, but rarely anyone has time for them. Most people just go with the standard factory preset, which sometimes is all you need. In some lower tier screens, not to much. That’s the difference between low-tier flats and CRTs; even a mediocre CRT has better screen response time and colours to a mediocre flat screen. Some modern flat screens, even HDR and OLED ones, can’t replicate colours accurately. Sometimes they lack the brightness, sometimes they just lack the needed cells for the colour reproduction. Film buffs can bitch about film vs video all day long, but in the end their film will be seen via digital means nowadays and that will screw them up in the end.

The disparity of old media on modern screens has split some of the userbases with film and games. While most film and TV-series enthusiasts have easy time what should be the correct image format for their media, games are not as lucky. Most computers and consoles run on different line resolutions, which don’t really fit any screen format readily. However, considering the 4:3 screen ratio was universal standard across the globe during pre-widescreen television and digital standards, it is safe to say this was the intended screen ratio despite what the consoles internal resolution may have been. For example the SNES uses 8:7 as its internal ratio, which meant the developers would need to take the difference in account when making assets for their games. Hence why certain games look a bit squished when seen in their then-intended end ratio of 4:3. This is also an issue of technological gap, as all modern screens are effectively fixed-pixel screens; all pixels are the same size no matter what. CRT tech doesn’t use pixels, and in comparison are non-fixed. A ‘pixel’ could be of different size from another. When using the peculiarities of the screen, you could get things like rainbow effects to waterfalls or have raster lines and dithering meld together into proper, smooth colour. Effectively, the use of lower quality video signal was used for a greater effect in the final product. Displaced Gamers has an excellent video regarding dithering on the Mega Drive with Composite Video. If we use Shiny Entertainment as an example of people working with machines that would end up using a CRT as its main display, we can assume that developers not only were aware of the systems’ limitations, but also the possibilities effects like dithering would have. This is also the reason why so many NEC PC-98 titles are dithering heaven, as the CRT screens the PCs would use would blend the dithering into colours that didn’t really exist in the graphics. This was used to add, for example, extra shading. Nowadays dithering doesn’t work the same way, and is mostly an aesthetics matter.

While perhaps not the best example, Giga’s Harlem Blade from 1996 (should probably be Harem, but Engrish is a thing) gives us an access to Kimura Takahiro’s original work and the CG used in the game. What we don’t see is how the CGs should be seen. Modern display screens simply don’t draw the graphics the same way. By 1996, most PC98 titles were seeing ports to Windows platforms, which already changed how graphics were designed and drawn. You see this kind clear, far better defined graphics in the latter part of the 1990’s compared to titles in the earlier years of the decade, but evolution of PC98 graphics is not the topic here. That would also count the note of style of dithering changing, as many early PC98 titles were upgraded ports of PC88 titles, which more limited colour palette to work with, resulting in different kind of dithering, but the same end; creating new colours on the screen, melding shading together etc.

So much brighter. Source is Fairytale’s Strawberry Daisenryaku Novu from 1990, PC98

Here’s a hacky method I can remotely simulate how things might’ve looked like in real; a hi-res scan from a magazine from 1994 that has a photo taken for a CRT screen, then fit it into the same size as the original CG.

While this CG from Giga’s Variable Geo is clean and doesn’t showcase much effects with the dithering, the photo taken has lots of stuff going on with it. Sure, it’s a bit crooked, the lighting settings probably were slightly off, but those are beside the point. The dithering gives off a far smoother look to shading and colours overall, especially on skin and on that yellow shirt. You could fix the colours to represent the in-game CG better, but that’d be removing the point of the scan; it aims to convey how the game’s graphics were seen in real life. Hell, perhaps the colours really were more saturated on a CRT due to the output and screen itself. The way you see the CG on the left on your modern screen right now is, ultimately, wrong. Even with the scan you’re watching a picture of digitised print. I’m not even sure if this is the best way to represent old CGs like this on modern screens, or there already exists some kind of super add-on plugin that would allow natural CRT look. Ignore the darker left on the scan, it wasn’t a clean scan. I’m not to unbind a relatively rare magazine when I only have one copy of it.

If you want to see the uncropped CG and that 1200dpi scan, you click here and here.

Despite our modern screen tech considered superior to whatever tech CRT was used, it still fails to replicate the intended results of older media. The discussion of quality of the media, be it shows, movies or games, should always remind itself that technology has changed. Ignoring the originally intended mode of viewing is common to the point most simply forget something like SNES or PlayStation was never intended to be viewed with completely clean output on a flat screen. Adding scansline effects or whatnot is not a true answer how to get closer to the originally intended image, but we’re getting there. Maybe at some point we might get plugins, addons or maybe even screen modes that would be able to emulate the way CRT screen drew images now that the pixel resolution is high enough to handle non-fixed pixels. I doubt that’s going to be a common thing anyway, as the priorities and goals have changed. Now modding old tech or increasing internal resolutions during emulation is seen as an answer to what are considered deficiencies, when in reality users are forcing an analogue format into modern digital form. It’d be like trying to make a modern car run on whale grease. Can probably be done, but needs some stuff in-between to work properly.

Some of the issues are raised by the kind of new mindset, where power users are trying to get better quality image our from their machines than what was intended. As mentioned, number of games rely on the level of image output that was available at the time and no better. With upscalers and modern tools we’re not only losing the intended viewing display, but also the intended way of seeing the image. The clarity of the image has become so omnipresent and oppressive presence that users are disregarding the reality and the environment of the time when CRTs existed. That above discussion about SNES’ internal resolution and the end output is exactly the issue we’re having here; we have a method to circumvent the whole display issue and use then raw internal output, but at the same time that’s not the output that was ultimately intended. We can’t even showcase the issue properly on the Internet, becasue taking footage of a CRT is rather troublesome and digitised footage does not represent reality in this case. Digital video crunches down the footage into pixels it can understand. Effectively, we’re upscaling something that can, but we never ask if we should. Clearly something like a VHS footage or LD doesn’t look good when it’s blown up from its original size, which is why we have digital remasters. With games the issue is a bit foggier, because these are digital products and in practice can be blown up into size as long as the aspect ratio is kept right. The principle of upscaling the resolution often produces very blur marred image. Of course, emulation is its own thing and some emulators allow increasing emulated machine’s internal resolution, but that’s again trying to fix something that isn’t broken rather than finding the solution to the actual problem; what we see on modern displays do not represent the intended end-product from CRT era.

Maybe microLED might be the answer and key for flat screens surpassing CRTs in every aspect. If not those, then maybe we need to wait whatever will obsolete microLED.

Music of the Year; Jubei

When I sat down to write this post during the last few days 2019 with the intention of pushing it out on the second, I had a moment to pause and think. Despite writing an entry only two times a week now, that’s still more often than with some other blogs. Some barely update twice a month. I’m aware that the quality and topics have been slipping for some time now, and I’ve pointed that out few times already. Old news, why am I repeating myself like this? Because that’s what the blog has become; an endless repetition of points I’ve made in the past, sometimes rectifying something, sometimes expanding. Other times it’s just the same point in a new guise. It’s about as subtle as using a sledgehammer to crush an ant. For the first time, properly, I’m asking myself What’s the point? The whole page about what this page is about is no longer relevant, and by the time you’re reading this post that section in the menu at the top has been removed.

The music wasn’t just chosen because I’ve been familiar with it for some twenty years. It’s hammy, but this particular theme was used during the opening and transformations scenes in Jubei-Chan; Secret of the Lovely Eye-Patch. I’ve rarely hummed the song, but it never left some seedy patch in my memory. The hammy part comes in that I’m throwing it as the year’s theme, as I see a need for the blog to change while keeping it true what it was to be about. Two contradictory things like this rarely can meet in harmony, but that end amalgamation should be something worth striving for.

First is that I’ll stick what I planned last year; I won’t be forcing myself to write a post if there’s no point and the quality would suffer from that. Instead, I’ll mull over topics before putting them on paper, so to speak. For example, I noticed how I neglected an element of AI in my Muv-Luv and artificial intelligence posts, but rather than hack one in hastily, I decided to sit back and consider the topic further. Hopefully this also means the effort will go into making something worthwhile. Additionally, I hope this will give me time to return to certain scanning projects that have been sitting in the ice for two to three years now, one of the being a retrospective on Tamiya’s model kit mascot, Moko-chan. Moko’s Plastic model building guides were a sort of sub-cultural phenomena that represent that rare kind of mindset of making stuff yourself, learning how to model and build and enjoying what you’re doing. Effectively, appreciating one’s own craftsmanship, something that has become more common nowadays, but in digital form. Huh, I guess there’s a topic for me to discuss at a later date.

I won’t lie; this 1980’s style is top notch, prime meat quality to my weathered soul

All the above should prevent me from burning out like I felt I was last year. While blogging technically doesn’t (shouldn’t) take too much time, if there’s something else I’d rather dropped that few hours in, like another hobby or seeing friends, those take priority. A mind that is only consumed and worried about one thing is a tired and slack mind. It has to be renewed with other perspectives and other sources of inspiration rather than the same old again. (Is this accidental irony that I’m repeating the same old for the Nth time now?) Some of the results won’t be visible here, but some might, depending how different projects and plans go.

I’ve also decided to drastically change my stance on monetary support. While options like Patreon etc are not exactly for me, either because I’m not a fan of the platform or generally how they function, Ko-Fi seems to be a middle ground what sort of service I was looking for. You can check my page either via a new Widget on the right, at the top, or via this link. I sincerely expect zero support, zero amount of cash. This page is not that popular that anyone would be willing to drop any money, but certain British Youtuber talked me over last about this. You never know if you don’t have one set up, he said. I would almost bet he’d donate just to show he’s right. While I don’t have goals up on the page, I do have some in the back of my head. Depending if anything ever comes this way, the first thing would be to get a domain, so that the page could stand without WordPress at the top. Second aim would be to get a better visual theme; the current one is not exactly optimal and getting something that would serve both galleries and text better. The better themes cost around hundred bucks last time I checked, so there’s that. All the Ko-Fi donations would build towards this, and none of them would be used for personal profit or gain. If there’s something left after the initial goals, well maybe I’ll buy a pack of tea and think of something better. It’s nice to have pipe dreams like this.

Speaking of personal, the third change will be that there will be a another blog, independent of this one. Whether or not it’ll be linked at any point or somewhere else is still up in the air, but it won’t be about news or commentary. Rather, I’ve wanted to write prose for some time now, and I’m giving it a shot by writing short stories. This, of course, would take time away from writing the blog, but as said, other hobbies to renew the mind. I hope tackling two different sides of text gives me more reasons to explore multiple perspectives more than previously, but you never know. Much like with the blog, I doubt many would be interested in reading those stories, but again, you never know before you try it out. All I really want is them to be out of my head, maybe compile them into a book down the line if I get enough stories out. Aahh, pipe dreams.

I’ll also try add more pictures on the blog, just like previously. Just a dump of text doesn’t do much good. Let’s leave that for prose.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the death of one Syd Mead, 1933-2019. I do not want to try gain views or cash on his death, as Mead was, and still is, one of the inspirations for me. His works both in television, film, animation and everywhere were nothing short of master pieces. His design tongue and style were easily recognisable and stood out from the generic mass of the media landscape. Mead was a designer who didn’t just draw items, but settings, vistas and visages, the concepts of future and life. He considered science-fiction to be realism ahead of his time, and it shows in his works. He wasn’t just an artist, he was a master craftsman with only few matching his peer.

This blog was set up back in 2011. We’re closing in on our ninth anniversary soon. Funny to think that this blog started at the beginning of this decade, and will end just after a new one has kicked off. Even funnier, when you realise a decade is years spanning from 1 to 10, and most people celebrated the New Millennium a year early.

Something new and the countering culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music of the Month; Snow is falling in the Galaxy

Christmas time is upon us once more, and we all should slowly slow our work and hype down towards the end of the year. Don’t mind if some spend Christmas for religious reasons, don’t mind if some don’t, this end of the year shouldn’t be about bickering. Y’know, the usual platitudes, but they’re worth every word spoken and breath taken. Our modern societies do spend too much time working and worrying, be what gift to get to whom or global issues that ultimately may be outside one person’s reach. While there are issues we all can strive for as one unit, we have to remind ourselves that each individual has their own limitation, their own stamina that will run out at some point. If not for any other reason, slowing down, settling to a calmer mind set and spending some time with the people you care for the most (or in case you don’t have any, spending that well deserved self-time with your favourite pastime) is all worth it. Certainly there are those who may not be able to do this for numerous reasons. Maybe it’s the usual goodness of our heart, morality, or simply because taking care of fellow man should make us feel better, giving something for those who don’t have any would give some chances of people being able to slow and calm down, just like you most likely can.

That sounds like a lot of bullshit, diabetes inducing sweet talk and all that, but in the end, I would love if everyone could settle their bickering and fighting aside for at least for these few days in the year. You’ll have all the time to go bombastic and drunk when the New Year hits around anyway. All I really want is people get along, despite their differences in opinions and characters.

That’s probably the best I can say about the coming month. By the end of the year, I’ll most likely skip writing a post or two. It honestly will depend how much time I want to end up spending in front of the screen and typing something down, when I could be doing something else. That certainly sounds selfish. Maybe because it is, I don’t get paid. I get paid to build shit. That said, there should be a controller review coming up still, the Retrobit Saturn controller. As usual with these third party aftermarket controllers, licensed or not, I’ll be giving it a fair shake review and open it for a good pornographic inside view to the PCB and electrons inside. Not that I’ll be able to say much about it, outside overall construction quality and basic soldering, but there are people who appreciate pictures of PCBs. Maybe we’ll be able to see whether or not the controller would make a decent base for a project. It’d be nice of some company outside Madcatz would finally realise that there are people who want to build their own shit, and giving them some kind of decent base PCB would be a way to go.

The Post was in strike for good two weeks and then some, ending up with the prime minister and his government resigning, so whether or not the controller will actually arrive before the year ends is a big question. We’ll see. Just like we’ll see if those fifteen other packages that are stuck in the mail will arrive.

I’ll have to think what to do with this blog next year though. While topics will be around, I do consider this year to be a travesty in terms of quality. Nothing of worth has come out, outside one or two special cases. I still think the Virtual-On Retrospective in many ways is the best the blog can offer. Maybe I’ll change the working method and stop doing twice-a-week schedule and turn that to once-a-week while working on posts that take more time. Like those Guilty Gear and TSF comparisons. When you do don’t work 8h+ a day, somehow you find yourself having time and energy to put into something else. Maybe I’ll open a Patreon or Ko-Fi for people who want to drop a nickle or two for those “big post,” though I can assure you this blog would get zero monetary support. I know my own word’s worth, and it ain’t much. Though I could have plans for any support, like purchasing my own domain name and use that for the blog. I really would like to do more controller and gadget reviews still, especially on older stuff and optional third party items, because those have the most interesting things in them. The standard controllers usually don’t have much exciting itty bits in ’em, but something like that Mini Hori Commander for the Famicom, where they crammed all that stuff into two layers while arguably making a better controller the official Famicom or NES one, is that kind of jazz I simply adore.

As for anything âge or Muv-Luv related stuff, well, we’ll see. There are numerous topics I want to visit, but I’d have to refer you to the whole “big post” business I mentioned earlier, and I know hitting that audience all the time would make the blog more a success, but that would turn boring rather fast, and in the end it isn’t the main point of the blog. I maybe I should open a new one and do ML related posting there twice a month or so. Maybe after I reach that 10-years anniversary with this blog, which is coming in couple of years. Time will tell what happens and what doesn’t.

For now, just enjoy life and slow down a bit. There are no reasons to hurry, unless you’re badly injured and need medical help. While you’re at it, remember to sharpen and oil your knives. A sharp knife is a safer too in the kitchen, preventing the blade slipping like a dull blade tends to, because it can’t cut into the material. Oiling of course prevents rusting and all that, just be sure to use something like rapeseed oil rather than motor oil.

Old, reheating Capcom

Despite Capcom having big hit titles in the few recent years, mainly Devil May Cry 5, Monster Hunter World and Resident Evil 2 Remake, that’s pretty much it. Street Fighter V has been extremely safe game for them, the SF fandom can be very, very tribal about their loved title, and Capcom fighting games overall are still considered the golden standard. For a good reason too, but that’s not the main topic here, maybe we’ll revisit that a bit later.

For 2019, Capcom has released no truly new game. Everything Capcom has released this year has been either a remake, sequel or a port. 2018 was the same deal. Back in the day in the late 1980’s and 1990’s Capcom was blamed to rehash the same game over and over again with new sequels. This isn’t true, despite it feeling like that with a new Mega Man game almost every year or yet another variation of Street Fighter II. The Golden Age of Mega Man was a wild time in many ways, but at the same time Capcom kept pushing out new franchises to expand their library and offering. If there wasn’t something new on a console, the arcades probably had something interesting to check out, like Darkstalkers.

Modern Capcom is satisfied with the status quo they have going on now, at least on the front. Capcom is relying on their big-name, big-business titles. While SNK wants to become Marvel of video games, Capcom used to have this spot. I say used to, because as we are now, Capcom has become the company that does nothing but sequels or rehashes. Even Mega Man, franchise that used to renew itself every few years to some extent, is effectively buried again. Capcom lost all the momentum they gained with Mega Man 11 by not publishing any solid information of a new Mega Man game being developed. Well, there is Rockman X DiVE, but as with every other Capcom franchise, they go to die on mobile. DiVE is far from being a new Mega Man 11 in terms of impact and presence, mostly because the title is competing in a different market from the main bulk of Mega Man games. In the end, it is still a sequel, or rather a spinoff, to a well known franchise.

Has Capcom abandoned making new and strong IPs? In business, especially in Japanese business, sticking to what you know best and what has already established market slot and pull is the way to go. The reason you don’t get new sequels to long-dead franchises all the time or new IPs to bolster the library is because the current corporate culture in Capcom is not there. The young Capcom needed to expand and make new titles all the time. Not because they threw everything a the wall to see what stuck, but because there was that drive. The people who work in Capcom now are not the same people who launched these game IPs originally, and it’ll take someone exceptional, like Yoshinori Ono, to suggest and bear the weight of reviving an IP.

You would think that reviving an old IP with strong history would fit the category just fine. Reviving, however, means that the IP is dormant or dead, often because it has either seen a slouch in sales or the driving force behind the franchise is missing. Resident Evil has consistently seen good amount of sales and is considered Capcom’s modern mainstay franchise next to Monster Hunter. Both of these series are old, but have been reinvented as they’ve come along. They’re also consistent with Capcom’s changing image, with new blood coming in and tasked to make a new game for the series. Capcom shows that you can live off a limited amount of IPs under your belt just fine, as long as you keep quality high and the number of releases constant. A stagnant series that doesn’t have the drive behind or, or the corporate support compared to the other projects that are going on at the same time, doesn’t have much chances. As much as Final Fight plays an important role in Capcom’s history, it is a legacy series they can use to promote themselves and other titles for the old guard that’s out there, but Final Fight has been superseded by Devil May Cry as the action game.

At some point, old IPs become new again after they’ve been dormant long enough. Street Fighter IV is a great example of this, and we can see Toho doing the same thing Godzilla periodically. Capcom still intents to revive some of their old, sleeping IPs (just like they said last year) but what are the chances of that happening? Perhaps what they mean by reviving they mean remaking old games that were big hits for the modern generations that hear the legends of these old games but won’t play because they’re too old. Maybe it means more ports upon ports. Probably both, as rumours say Capcom is already working on Resident Evil 3 remake. Understandable, considering how well REmake2 was did in sales and reception. While Capcom has loads of legacy franchises under its belt, they’re intentionally not making any use of them outside collections and re-releases. All the R&D goes to big name titles, which is closer to putting your eggs into one basket rather than betting on multiples. It seems to be working for Capcom just fine, but as argued last year, Capcom has both the manpower and economic capacity to develop smaller titles with smaller teams. They sort of are doing this with their mobile department, but that’s a different market from home consoles, and arguably different from PC market as well.

There’s no reason for Capcom to change their pattern right now, their big budget titles sell well and they are successful. Their caution is to back these up with re-releases. It’s safe and sure way to make business, and business is their main thing. Capcom wants big titles, big revenues. Small titles with meager sales won’t make that cut, but putting some money on re-releases, that’s a different thing. I wouldn’t expect Capcom to actually revive an old IP that doesn’t have some presence already. Sad to say, but at the moment, Capcom truly is the company they were joked to be, rehashing everything and unwilling to bring anything new to the table.

Forceful franchising

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

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

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

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

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

The Moving American Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The act of an Artista

I’ve been recently on a slight nostalgia bent with giant robots, and I decided to revisit a franchise I didn’t really have any interest to check out outside its designs, the 1986 comic Five Star Stories, (which is still running) illustrated and written by in/famous Mamoru Nagano. Nagano is somewhat a divisive person, mostly known for his extremely flowy and detailed mecha designs. Outside his own works, he’s known for mechanical designs for Heavy Metal G-Gaim, but his career includes fashion designing, making music, directing and writing. He tends to rub a bit wrong with some people, as a person he is strong willed to put it diplomatically, and is overprotective of his works to a fault. He has his own publishing company to make sure he has reins on Five Star Stories, called Toypress. He sounds like a person who just wants to protect his rights as an artist, but the stories from the animation and comic industry paints him an asshole at times, sometimes obsessively hands on projects to the point of detriment. Nagano’s visual style has always been heavy on the detail, and whenever he can, he won’t budge on the quality. Nagano considers that his works on L-Gaim were never incorporated properly, mostly due to his style being rather different. For something like L-Gaim this isn’t really as problem, but with a show like Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, you need to consider the existing motifs and design language, something Nagano understood only later on. Ollie Barder has rather extensive interview with Nagano Forbes that I warmly recommend reading.

Guess what time it is?

My nostalgia of course lead me to return to Nagano’s Gothicmade, an animated film he started making at least since 2006, perhaps even earlier. When it was announced, people were rather hype about it, as Nagano’s style and designs are still considered some of the best in the mecha genre. People were very eager to see what his new project would be like, with it taking to come out so long, when projects get stretched beyond their initial goals, people tend to find other things to occupy their attention. The movie finally debuted in 2012 in theatres, and has been rerun every now and then for limited time. As the first Japanese animated movie in 4K with D-Cinema 5.1, Nagano has stated that this movie won’t be leaving the theatres, because that is the only way he considers the proper form to experience his movie. As it happens with me, a lot of this kinda slipped out of memory, as things tend to do when you’re revisiting something you were hyping up over a decade ago.

Nagano isn’t the first artista, auteur, artist or whatever you want to name him to do something like this. All creators have an intended way for experiencing their production, which the consumer can break, much to the dismay of the creator. To use an old and worn out example, an elaborate set of dishes are often meant to be consumed in order and in particular fashion. Breaking the intended way of eating may, for example, produce the wrong taste due to incorrect order or because such. Similarly, a comic creator may only want his works to be read through printed medium, with specifically chosen paper and carefully curated choice of colours in order to ensure that not only his vision, but the accuracy of it, is best preserved for the reader. Then some slob just squirts ketchup from his hotdog and smudged shit up and glues the pages together. It happens. Some musician supposedly don’t like their music heard outside live concerts, and disdain recordings. That might be just the money issue, it’s a bit harder to pirate live concert in its best form than just ripping off a CD or music stream. Akira Ifukube didn’t want his compositions for Godzilla to be available separate from the movie until the 1980’s, as in his view the film and music had to be together to have the best effect; that the two complemented each other and both would be half as weak without the other.

Nagano isn’t the first one to argue for the sake of integrity of his work. While respectable, it could also be argued that home consumer technology has already passed Gothicmade. 4K image resolution has been passed some time ago with 8K screen being the new standard and we’re already seeing proper research and advancements made into 16K, with some production examples already being showcased, like Sony’s MicroLED display tech. When it comes to sound, home users can get fine sound, if not sometimes even better sound, from their home systems or headphones than what a theatre can offer. However, not everyone has the money, or want, to build themselves a home theatre to take full advantage of what they have. Screen sizes have become largely academical issue with screens and projects being able to throw image absolutely everywhere.

That is of course beside his main point. It’s not that home technology is well up to the task of showcasing Gothicmade to the home audiences, but that it is not intended to be viewed at home with any sort of system available there. You’re supposed to your way out there to get a ticket, then get into the theatre with other people of shared interest, sit on a cushion away from all the stuff you have at home, all the little mundane things that may scratch behind your dark unconscious mind, relax and take int the (supposedly) breath taking visuals on the screen, hear sound mixed as intended and proper volume and simply experience the marvel of the work. That is, if the work can actually deliver its intended effect.

Gothicmade was in the works for some six years because it was handled by Nagano himself and other small group of people. Nagano of course took the bulk of most tasks, and I recall jokes how he and three others worked the movie in his basement, which probably isn’t too far off the mark. Budget has never been revealed, but working in 4K in 2006 probably cost an arm and a leg, and then some. For all the reviews I’ve read throughout the years, Gothicmade has had the same criticism; it’s rather badly animated outside vast, spanning shots of the environment, it has pretty music and good voice acting, but action is very much lacking despite the detailed robot designs. The story is described something between trite and interesting, but ultimately dull. All this really shows in the trailers we’ve seen thus far as well, though most of them try to get around this and show the best bits.

Note how the trailer faps at the pretty robots by hammering home with the line How beautiful robot

There has been numerous theories why Gotchimade was kept in such a small team. Most often it’s assumed that Nagano doesn’t exactly like his works being adapted, after he was disappointed in the 1980’s movie adaptation of Five Star Stories, despite that movie has praised to heaven and back how beautiful it is. Incidentally, that movie will last the test of time better, as digital video dates itself extremely fast. Five Star Stories, for being on film, will ultimately find itself being remastered in higher resolutions as long as the original masters are intact, and even then magic can be made happen to up the quality. Unless Gothicmade‘s raw material is done on something that scaled at will, for example if everything was done with vectors. Somehow I doubt that. Five Star Stories was criticised to be pretty to look at, while light on story, but if we believe the reviews, Gothicmade fares no better, if not stumbling worse.

Then again, maybe Five Star Stories looks too detailed and overtly animated for its own good. Boatloads of cash and cocaine went into making these scenes, probably killing an animator or two. Nothing in Gothicmade‘s trailer comes even closer to this in terms of quality

Nagano probably is well aware of the criticism he has received from the viewers. I doubt any of that has affected his view on the work, as he has retconned Gothicmade as a major part of Five Star Stories comic, which some have found detrimental while others take it as a breath of fresh air, renewing the IP’s vigor. Part of me can’t help but wonder if Nagano is not willing to let his movie out of theatres because he knows of its value, or the lack of it, but wants to keep it as closely guarded secret as possible. Something that is kept limited from others has more perceived value after all, it makes people want it more. This of course ups the perceived value, and the holder of course gains more vertical value in eyes of others. This sort of thing can be seen on the Internet in various communities. Someone might have an image of a rare game and is refusing to share it, as that want adds value to the holders and others in the community. The same applies to scans and other materials, licensed, copyrighted or not. Perhaps Nagano knows that Gothicmade is rather lacklustre movie, but holding it at bay will keep its value up. Perhaps I’m blowing shit out as usual, maybe he really believes it to be a masterpiece and simply doesn’t want anyone to experience it the wrong way, though I am sure there would be licensing firms willing to simply sub the movie and have a limited run in local theatres or festivals.

Then again, Gothicmade‘s music and artwork has been released for home consumers with CDs, books, magazines, model kits and toys. Nagano is willing to license the work for other products, but home release is denied seven years after its initial debut. Hey, it gets asses into seats and apparently makes money that way, no reason to pay further distributors. You might argue that it’s not about the money, but it’s always about the money. Artists are just shit with finances by default and often won’t admit it or can’t even ask the proper sums before learning lack of finances the hard way. Does this serve the product itself to any significant extent? Perhaps it’s not about the movie experience. Considering how worshipping Nagano’s fans can get, perhaps Gothicmade would be best treated as some architectural painting you can’t see elsewhere but on the spot, a painting on the wall or a building itself. Something worth a mundane pilgrimage, or to be checked out when you’re around the neighbourhood.

The creator doesn’t matter, but the creator matters

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

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

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

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

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

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