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.

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.

Rebooting the honeymoon period

Before a franchise becomes a running success, it goes through golden days of sheer creativity. This lasts until certain unwritten rules become commonplace, which are largely determined by both success of entries in the franchise itself. Take Mobile Suit Gundam for example, where this period of exploring what Gundam as a franchise could be and how it was to be depicted lasted about a decade and arguably ended with Gaia Gear, a series of novels and audiodramas set into the far future of the original’s timeline. While the story and setting is very much what we could expect from a Gundam entry, it separated itself from the series by not having the title Gundam anywhere and its titular mech Gaia Gear had only a passing resemblance to mainline designs in the series.

On the left you can visually identify the mech as a Gundam-type. It has the distinct white-blue-yellow colours, the right type of structure with the cockpit in the chest/stomach region, vents on either side of the chest, a pronounced cockpiece and now-iconic Gundam head. Gaia Gear breaks basically every rule outside the vents on the chest. It could be argued that because it’s not a Gundam in name it doesn’t need to follow the conventions. However, most Mobile Suits in Gundam follow similar structure in body designs with only special cases deviating heavily from them. That is not to say that Gaia Gear didn’t get a repaint later on that matches with Gundam colours, but that’s really neither here or there. As a whole Gaia Gear was one of the last entries that broke with decade long exploration what Gundam was and what it could be, until Mobile Fighter G Gundam would present with the first alternative timeline on television, but the designs would still stick to the already established mould.

Sometimes this period lasts only one entry. Take the Halloween film franchise as an example, where the third movie veered off from the first two movies’ setting and characters in attempt to make the series different with each entry. With the backlash the movie got, the period of experimentation ended and all future films would stick to the first movie’ shtick, exploring only its characters and set-ups while not entertaining the idea of an anthology series. It could be argued that the two first movies already set the what the franchise as a whole would be in stone, and isn’t exactly comparable to changing designs in Gundam, but the gist is the same; Something is made in multiple entries and tries to find its sweet spot, and once it does, it sticks to it like glue.

When the honeymoon period with the franchise’s golden days ends, it leads to formulaic entries one after another. This doesn’t mean the quality drops automatically. Rather it means the consumers have certain expectations of the brand and creators behind the brand are expected to deliver. They can improve the formula bit by bit and explore it to some extent without majorly changing elements. Usually turning things completely on their sides of changing the core concepts massively is reserved for spin-offs, and ultimately for reboots when a franchise is considered to be too heavy on history and pre-established lore.

The Gold Key comics followed, or perhaps enforced, the standard Trek formula that DC and Marvel would break a bit more later down the line in manners TV couldn’t

Star Trek is probably a common example here, where majorly affected spin-offs were relegated to comics and games, while small but major tweaks to the formula were represented in Voyager and Deep Space Nine. With the J.J. Abram’s rebooting the franchise, and requesting only his take on Trek to maintain any presence, we’ve gone through the whole period of exploring the franchise again in the comics, while the movies stuck to the formula right after. We can see the reaction the studio and creators had to the receptions of the Abram’s Trek take in Discovery and Picard, where this new take on the series followed the modern action line it was restructured to be in place of exploring the human condition though guise of science fiction. Sometimes reboots are used as a way to gain a recognizable property to make business with while ignoring the existing wants and needs.

A franchise that has established itself builds up expectations with each successive entry, especially if there’s a series of entries that improve the core concepts one after another. This is best seen in video games, where styles of play and elements that exist in a franchise often are built up, and about just as often began to fall apart at some point for multitude of reasons. Take the Splinter Cell franchise as an example.

Those three green dots became a well recognised during the golden days of Splinter Cell. Not so much now

The Splinter Cell franchise was Ubisoft’s golden cow at one point with receptions like no other. Sure it came in the wake of Thief and Metal Gear Solid, but the franchise is most well known for its three first games, nowadays titled as the Splinter Cell Trilogy, while the rets of the games are more or less pushed aside. This mostly is because the first three games emphasised stealth as a play mechanics, especially using the shadows as the main point of play much like Thief did before it. The first three games expanded on the whole (relatively) open stages and ways the player could tackle mission specific targets in a stealthy manner. The first three games in the series build up the mechanics and laid down the core structure what could be expected of the franchise, but after that the most common criticism has been the franchise moving away from stealth and becoming a more generic action play with less freedom players has per stage, relying on a linear design. With lacklustre entries that fall between the cracks and not meeting with the expectations the franchise had already built up, UIbisoft hasn’t put out a new entry in a while.

Not that many teams would like to tackle Splinter Cell all that eagerly, as each new title is expected to return to the glory days of the franchise that would stand to the original tagline of the Splinter Cell, Stealth Action Redefined. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ubisoft would simply reboot the whole franchise, effectively nullifying expectations the franchise has, cleaning the slate for developers and riding a recognisable name all the while.

Automated dream

Automation is a fun topic, especially when you’re working with people who run an automated cell in production. It’s a dream to manufacturers, a machine that can do a job that takes a guy half a day in an hour. You just feed the machine necessary parts and it spews out a ready product, or a product that’s ready to move forwards on the manufacturing process. You see these ideal videos and photos from car manufacturing plants, where robots are moving back and forth putting parts together. Everything seems to move like buttered lightning, and probably smelling like that too. The reality is a bit different though. Discussing these automated cells often brings up that there are few problems with the current mode of automation nobody really talks about, first being that it’s automated to a point. It’s always pointed out that there needs to be someone to oversee the robots working, telling them what to do. This is probably the best example of tool artificial intelligence we have, where these robots know to do one job they’re told to do and they do it well. At least as well as the parts allow. Because of manufacturing tolerances, the pieces these robots put together are often misaligned, have cut corners, warped pieces, arcing issues and all that. A human can work with these parts, because we’re sentient and aware of what the hell’s happening, but a robot’s intelligence carries only as far as its programming and tools. If there’s a gap because of a warped piece and its laser eye sees it, it’ll alarm the operator to either try again or skip the step.

Automation makes more efficient production, when applicable. Automation often also results in better results cheaper, but with much higher up-front costs. Setting up automation, be it a manufacturing robot or to build a 3D model to be used in live streams, the front costs is high. For the robot it’s the whole shebang from buying the robot, remodelling the place where the robot needs to be, setting up proper power grid for it, building the spot, installing the robot, then realise you need more than one, get a guy who knows how to program the robots, proceed to do test runs and continue to improve the programs and methods in the production line to get satisfactory results. In short term, the price of an automated cell in a plant is high, but the long-term drop of costs is high. One of the few places companies often think about proper, sustaining long-term profit instead of destructive short-term. Similar thing can be applied to the 3D model, where a person has to acquire hardware and programs to start modelling, and probably learn how to model at some point. All that asks time and money. To use the model in a live stream, some kind of motion tracking hardware and software has to be utilised, and probably some other buzzing equipment. All that is high up-front cost before you are able to make profit from them, but after all that’s set up, it’s much easier and economic to change the programs or the 3D model. They’re also permanent. A robot doesn’t need to take a rest like a person needs to, and a 3D model doesn’t need to exercise or put on makeup to change its body or face. There’s an element removed from the equation that requires certain kind of physical work.

Just like how keyboards have automated writing. You no longer need to hold a pen and write something on paper. You don’t need to concern yourself with writing the letters properly. Writing the letters has been automated for you. Even spellchecking has been automated to a large degree, and it is only a matter of time, proper coding and programming before we have a tool AI that is able to properly write, say, a translation.

Automation is replacing some work people are doing, but the more automation is being refined, new robots are designed and implemented, the more coding and programs are refined, the more work will be replaced. One of the more currently relevant topic might be artificial intelligence doctors. I talked about this a bit previously, but the benefits seem to be up there with doctors and nurses that don’t get sick or get tired. IEEE Spectrum has tallied up AI vs human doctor accuracy, and while live doctors are winning in general diagnosis and photoshopped images, the rest is more up in the air. Even if the presentation is rather simple, perhaps too much, it does seem to point out that in general terms live doctors may be able to make better overall judgement calls, but when it comes to accurate, on-point diagnosis the AI has the leverage. Probably could’ve saved me from scarred lungs if these are anything to go by.

Lot of times automation has been said to replace low-skill jobs. Some of these probably are, but it appears that the word is used to describe work skills that are not attained in higher education. A welder, for example, may not have a university degree, but his knowledge and skill set has to do with material studies, mechanics, physics, little bit of chemistry with work that needs constant attention and loads of craftsmanship. Anyone can be a shit welder, just like anyone can be a shit journalist. To be a competent welder takes time and effort, and acquisition of skills most of the population don’t even know make up most of their surroundings. While I’m being on this tangent, most of our modern world is build on welding. From the buildings we live in to the chairs we sit on, from the cars we drive to phones we talk on, there are bits and bobs welded together everywhere.

It’s mostly a matter of time until automation creeps itself up the the ladder to high-skill jobs. Technology may not be there yet to replace doctors, but it’s getting there slowly. Information has already been automated with the Internet, where most news sites and journalists working there have been obsoleted by individuals reporting on their own and taking footage that usually wasn’t available to all. Some time back slew of journalists were left jobless when the sites they were working for went bankrupt. The kind of service and content they were producing was replaced by the automation of information via the Internet and the people using it. That’s automation at its core; something that makes it easier to put out much cheaper and more efficiently. All the video hosting sites like Youtube, and all the blog platforms like WordPress, are part of automation of information, where we have seen the loss of extra hands in the middle. Even with the most of the platforms and publishers do control information to some extent, it is mostly possible to get unfiltered, uncontrolled information if you’re willing to do some digging. For example, footage on how different parts of the world are dealing with SARS-CoV-19 and COVID-19 often paint a different kind of picture from what news sources may be giving you. Being able to read media properly plays a large role in this, as individuals have about as much agendas as any news source would. Sometimes it’s to push a political view, sometimes an individual just wants that particular moment out there. Automation of information has also given individuals the possibility to work to the same extent as any professional journalist, and this has clearly caused friction. What constitutes as legitimate news and does a source need to be confirmed by an outside agency, like a government, have all been raised to the table.

The more automation proceeds, the more questions are raised and the more it is being questioned. People who didn’t expect automation to enter their work field have hard time to adjust to the reality that they may need to acquire new set of skills in a world where their skills have less demand. Learning to code is one thing, another would be the person who oversees the automation.

No automation is truly independent of human interaction. Automation is nice and all as long as it doesn’t break down. All the errors manufacturing robots face and can’t be solved needs that human operator to step in and fix it. At least at this point in time, who knows what the future holds for automation and robotics. At some point, we might have robots building robots that build robots that fix the stuff the first robot can’t solve. It all ends with the nature of the work changing. We’ll always need people who know how to weld, because automation can’t be taken to the field and can’t be fit into each and every pocket. That one guy with a rod of metal fixing your car’s busted door has to work with whatever the hell you did to the car and no robot can really fix it due to the sheer amount of variables. Even when automation is taking more hold, there are niches in its wake that people will fill. They may be small niches, but at the same time, automation opens other doors of possibilities. It’s up the people to grab them. Automation won’t stop as long as consumers want their stuff fast and cheap.

One review needs two plus points of views

The opinion on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have been rather divided ever since they became a staple how consumers could voice their opinion. In principle, aggregate cites like them are best way to convey and give a median on hundreds, if not thousands, of consumers’ view on a given product. By having the experiences and musings of all these people, you should get an overall accurate image on the product, of its strengths and flaws. At the same time we all are aware how easily such things are swayed to a direction or to another. This is something these aggregate sites have had to struggle with since day one, and there really isn’t a good way to get around it. Every major “faction” tries to sway the ratings of the more visible titles, be it the industry, marketing powers, the consumers themselves or whatever sect’s having shit and giggles for that day, on the long run the aggregate sites will end up giving a decent idea on two different kind of score; the reviewer score and the audience score. The problem is, neither of them are reliable.

If we don’t beat around the bush, most modern professional reviewers are mostly paid and have an agenda. What that agenda ultimately doesn’t matter, as the end goal is to keep their job and not get the power that be mad at them. Shoot down a game or a movie that’s cost big bucks to make and piss off the right people, and you’re cut off from the circles. Ubisoft won’t invite you to press-only events to give you iPads and merch after you gave a 7 to their latest Rabbids game. I noticed during the last few Star Wars movies how the review narrative on the movies always started at the height of the hype. but after two years it petered out and to something that tried to cater to both overall consumer reception and view, and the what the marketing was pushing for. The Last Jedi probably being the best example with how it was sold as subversive and how the consumers simply didn’t get it, and with the arrival of Rise of Skywalker the same bits and bops the same people praised at first, were now called problematic and having quality issues in the storytelling. These distort the aggregate results rather strongly, especially when these industry reviewers have a small pool where to draw from.

At the same time, consumer reviews can range anywhere from thousand-page long essays to one sentence and maybe even word. While the reviewers who get paid to review have to meet some kind of deadline and word count, the general audience doesn’t. It’s easy to give short five cents and click how many stars you give something and be off. While consumers generally don’t get catered in special events like reviewers do, consumers are far more eager to drop extreme citing. It’s not rare to see someone dropping 0 or 1 due to whatever single stupid reason or because something else surrounding the product is not to their liking. At the same time you often get people who are, to quote a friend, ‘hype as fuck 10/10 bought three pieces and one extra for their dog.’ You know the type, people who will give a good review for the exact same reasons someone would give a bad review, yet have nothing to do with the product itself. Hell, positive or negative, there are Youtubers going through Steam reviews and making fun of how bad some of the reviews are.

Both are capable of using bots and campaigns to drive the aggregate numbers to whatever direction, so the point is rather moot. With high-profile movies and games it’s more an issue which one will be doing it more visibly and who will get caught first. Tweaking review numbers is silently accepted as part of the whole deal, and in the end nobody really trusts any number a reviewer givers. Which is why I don’t use a rating scale.

The Internet has made the profession of a reviewer rather moot. Everybody has something to say. Some people come across and are more educated on subjects they discuss, perhaps even have worked on projects or are still working in the industry itself. Some have jackshit knowledge where the chicken pisses but naturally can pin point positives and negatives like no other all the while bringing something new to the table. It’s rather common to become blind to your own industry the more you’re with it, how the eyes of a professional may make things sheen in pig grease and swoop down like a striking lightning, but have lost the touch to the grass root level end-consumer who just wanted a anime tiddies and a not a shitty metaphor. Nothing’s fool proof, and often it takes a fool to point out all the flaws the highest levels of professionals missed. The same applies to any industry and it can be seen on these aggregate sites, where individual consumers have far better points, plus and con, just by intuition over people who are used to analyse everything in Shakespearean terms.

There are numerous Internet reviewer sites and individuals who do both entertainment reviews and serious reviews. James Rolfe would count as both depending on what show he is doing. If his views or tastes aren’t to your liking, there are a whole lot more people that probably do. That’s one beauty the Internet has brought is; we are able to find like-minded people who may know more media we might enjoy. You might find fellow fans to share your fun with. However, at the same time we should consider outside views and what others are valuing in their media. After all, the only way to mock someone properly is to first understand what they’re saying.

Very few works of art and entertainment can claim to have objective categories in which to review and evaluate a work under. Because most of the entertainment, art and media overall is an expression of one or many, we often get something that intentionally breaks the set rules. We’re forced to evaluate outside the given parameters. Even with objective rules in which we are to evaluate something, every person will get slightly different result either due to personal experience with past productions of similar kind, or simply understanding the basic set of rules every so slightly. It is rather uncommon to see two people agreeing that, for example, some movie is absolutely fantastic, but for completely different reason. In discussions like this

Aggregate sites have acknowledged the divide between professionals and consumers, and how their world views differ. In some cases this has come to a point where the reviewers end up doing reviews that are more aimed at the industry, this being part of the whole losing-touch-with-consumers thing you always want to avoid. At the same time fellow consumers mostly likely know what at least part of the rest of people who need to pay for these products want and value. There’s a divide between the two roughly-made factions and it will not go away as long as anything like the Internet exists. In many ways, the professional reviewer is an obsolete beast, relegated to exist in certain circles in some manner, but eclipsed by a Joe Everybody with his own Youtube channel. Take the Australian electronic channel EEVblog as an example. Not only you can find reviews, but reviews that will tear down into the electronics and how they work. EEVblog is bit of a cheat, as the Aussieguy who runs it has a history with electronics industry, and it shows. However, at the same time is also a consumer. When the two worlds collide like this, magic happens. The fact that the Internet is full of people like this, and in ever increasing numbers, the traditional outlets are in a losing battle. Hell, if we manage to get into a situation where most reviewers are independent of the industry and its systems, the companies’ leverage could be almost ignored.

With some of the latest movies and TV shows Rotten Tomatoes has taken their stance to change how the calculate the scores as well as have been resetting the scores. While it’d be easy to credit malice and intentional skullfuckery with the score, like with the recent case where a ResetEra user went and review bombed a game, there are more cases where the user score simply tanks because the general consumer really does not like something and deems a movie or game to be low quality. Recently Dr. Who‘s latest season hit a record 0% audience score, but the score got reset and now sits somewhere in the thirties. Often a low score or a tanking score gets people suspicious, but nobody seems to talk about how a quickly rising score is just as weird. While aggregators do have a requirement to test methods to seek out bomber bots and the like, when aggregates begin to curate any submitted results, the whole point of aggregation becomes moot and the end-score won’t reflect the actual score.

Rarely a site or a news source providers you with more than view in a review. Some gaming magazines used to do this, and Japanese Famitsu still has multiple people reviewing the same game. The amount of text they cram into the page may be short, but the fact five different people can give some kind of points of comparisons at the same time is commendable. It’s like in Interspecies Reviewers, same thing really. Perhaps it’s cultural, perhaps it’s that most outlets don’t exactly have the time and money to have five people watching or playing something at the same time and separately submitting a review.

You know what I personally expect from reviews? Different approaches. The best reviews I’ve ever read and watched approach same point from three different angles, often utilising knowledge gained from surrounding matters, first-hand experience and what I call wildcard vectors. This way of examining something from multiple points of views should give more insight on hows and whys, as well as compound all the positives and negatives in proper manner. A negative point may still be negative, but at least one of the three approaches can understand and even appreciate that negative element.

Fascination with the (new) old (classics)

Somebody once asked me how I find all the (somewhat) old and obscure stuff I sometimes write on the blog and talk in person. Like with Gekisatsu! Uchuuken, to mention a specific example this question was propped up against. My answer is rarely anything poetic and really ended up being This is the kind of stuff I’m interested in, and often simply look into what’s there. By this I mean I have a tendency, or a very bad habit, to look up mentions of sources of inspirations, quoted series names, game titles listed on old magazines or sites, or simply because looking for something else I ran into something that seems interesting and begin to look up what’s it all about. The last bit is, unfortunately, far too common and nine out of ten times leads me to research something old, something that doesn’t seem to have decent resources on the ‘web, and all I can really do is purchase the damn thing only to realise it’s a part of larger piece and things begin to spiral out from there. This is why I’m going to have to talk about Monster Maker in few months.

I still need to return to talk about Gekisatsu! Uchuuken now that I have vastly more info on it, like about its original proto-iteration that was written during high-school days, the LP with the intended music for the never-realised TV series and managed to obtain the comics twice over with some more juicy extra info

Just as often as I saw people getting into something they just found out and were passionate about I could see someone scoffing them off either because it wasn’t interesting to others, or they had been interested in the same subject before and had either moved on or disregarded the subject. Then you have combination of both, and raising their noses to the plebeian who just now found something that they probably thought should be common base knowledge for everyone. That’d be like if I’d assume you dear reader could tell me what happens in episodes of Cream Lemon just because it was a massive influence on Japanese popular culture still felt to this day, and you most likely have some level of fascination regarding Japanese games and cartoons if you’re reading this blog.

People find different things at different rate, or sometimes never. Our fields of interests are wide and individually very specific. There is no one person who shares all the same interests with someone else, which also leads us to build our views and opinions very differently. It’s both nature and nurture. We might have a disposition for certain kind of interests, be it about what kind of job we want or what we find interesting in entertainment. We aren’t as tabula rasa even after birth as some might suggest, but neither are we slave to our genes. This is stupidly convoluted way of saying we got different interest and we want different things from life. This doesn’t lead into conveniently split demographics though.

Nevertheless, the old fascinates us. Be it to understand history itself, or where certain elements have spun from in culture and media. For example, how video games didn’t simply wink into existence when the first video and/or computer game was devised, but rather how modern electronic gaming was a slow process that included inventing new tools to build new methods of play old games and ideas with. While the distinction between video games and tabletop games is handy, the only true separation between the two is the medium. In the most basic form, both are about the play. Which also explains why some prefer the electronic method of playing, while other prefer the more traditional method via physical instruments. The two overlap constantly, seeing variations of the same core idea of play in both forms.

Even Tetris, a video game that is practically impossible to be converted into a board game without electronics or some form of change in play rules, has multiple board game iterations. This one’s from Ashen’s play review

 

Old becomes new when you find about it the first time around. There are no limitations on age on anything when it’s found for the first time. Children find classics all the time via new media just as we used to stumble upon new books and comics in the stores and libraries. There is no limitation or expiration on what constitutes as old when it’s found for the first time, and there is no set time someone “needs” to find something. It’s a treasure of a moment when you find something special to you, old or new, that you simply end up enjoying like no other. Doesn’t matter if it’s passé or something else as long as you end up enjoying it. Share the love while you’re at it, maybe you’ll be able to give the same moment about the same thing with someone else.

Although the old has a hold on the cultural mind, Old is not the best choice of word there. What has preceded before would be more proper, as many works are effectively timeless. Some of them haven’t aged all that well, some have been made obsolete and surpassed by another works in certain genres, styles or even series, while others still hold their candle to even the newest and shiniest of works you can grab. Star Wars and Star Trek could be cited as examples of this, but I’m sure you’re about as tired about that subject as I am. However, they are both good examples of franchises that simply don’t seem to die or be eclipsed by something. Modern Star Wars seems love to lean on nostalgia far too much and hasn’t exactly broken new ground in any manner since Lucas’ last movies (for all the Prequels were, they did push film technology and ways to film forward to the point modern film making around the world owes the man.) As for Star Trek, well, better cut this one short before the discussion about canon becomes relevant. Personally I’m grown tired of canon as that seems to govern all discussions about franchises and stories as of late, where everything needs to be part of some particular canon, while I’m all happy to take each individual story as it is without needing to consider too much the surrounding fiction. Didn’t save me from wanting to bash ST Discovery’s head in though.

Because we have these comparison points with the past works, we can build a better and more cohesive understanding on how both media and culture landscapes have formed themselves. Perhaps this is why some people are high and mighty assholes as they supposedly have more information and perspective over others, but it’s more likely they’re just assholes. It’s weird to consider, but many of modern entertainment staples have a long-running history and have worked their asses off to be there. This level of investment of course means they’re a safe bet, something that will produce money just by name alone. A new franchise has to battle directly against these established giants, which isn’t a fair battle, at least not in most cases. The Orville is an interesting beast in that it was more popular than Star Trek Discovery, its approach as a loving homage and some level of parody left it a bit behind the curve, and that it’s one of the few SF shows now that enjoyed at least some level of success. 2014’s Almost Human was terrific series, which never launched off and was cut short only for one season partially because lack of views, no established IP to support it and FOX having the tendency to kill off genre shows. The show might have done better if it had been realised during the 1990’s, but 2014 didn’t really serve it well.

All this is to say that all that old may give us perspective, but at the same time there is a hard tendency to get stuck with it. It’s something familiar, it’s something we’re accustomed to. Despite how much we might argue otherwise, people are very much accustomed to certain kind of things. We feel safe and comfortable how things are. Despite something new may get our attention and pull us in, more often than not it ends up being similar to what we already know about. Old habits die hard. At the same time, we might get so stuck into certain kind of gear and believe what was and how things are that we completely ignore reality. That’s partially because of our media and relationship bubbles we live in and partially because of our own nature of interest. That’s to put it overtly simply. It’s not rarity for people to get stuck to history and what we suppose we know that we’re ignoring what’s in front of us right now. While history tends to rhyme, we move forwards all the time and things change gradually but constantly. There’s no stopping this train.

The more reason for someone like me to read fantasy books and try playing board games rather than mar myself further into SF and play video games exclusively. It might still be old, but expanding to classics and seeing how its web of culture was woven helps to understand the works of now.

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.