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Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to fly to other countries, and with flying comes checking out the in-flight entertainment. More often than not these days, in-flight entertainment includes a number of games from Chess to Tetris to even Doom, and sometimes the list even includes mahjong. While much of the time this refers to the tile-matching game, what I’ve found is that on Asian airlines it can actually refer to the real game we know and love. That’s how I found In-Flight Mahjong on Korean Air.

Actually, based on the full description provided, which used the phrase “match the tiles,” I ignored it for a while thinking it was going to be Shanghai, but curiosity got the better of me, for which I’m grateful. Programmed by the guys who make all of the other in-flight games (DHC or something?), the game purposely tries to aim for the anime fan audience by not only following the rules of Japanese-style riichi mahjong, but also boasting what it refers to as “anime-style” characters, which you can see in the videos below (trust me they’re worth it, if only for a healthy laugh).

I’m actually a little sad that I wasn’t able to record the audio (headphones-only after all). Whenever you see a character pop up in those videos with a “PON!” or a “KAN!” as in the first image above, just pretend they’re being exclaimed by people with heavily American-accented Japanese. The voice “acting” is anything but, though I don’t exactly hold my free game programmed to distract me for a few hours in between meals (which included bibimbap by the way) to the standards of Mahjong Fight Club or even Tenhou.

The game offers two modes: “quick game,” and “career,” which is meant to be like a single-player adventure mode (and in fact there is no multiplayer) with a few paragraphs to tell you whether you’re playing in a local parlor or at the end against some significant bigwigs. All of your favorite hands are there, though it refers to some in interesting ways (Chanta and Junchan are “Hon Chanta” and “Chanta” for some reason) The game offers three levels of difficulty, from easy to difficult, and of course I chose difficult out of some bizarre and fragile sense of pride. The computer opponents aren’t tough, but what I did notice is that on the difficult setting they tend to be extremely safe and conservative, and more often than not the rounds would end in a draw.

While this is not too surprising or annoying normally, it unfortunately comes with a peculiar rule in In-Flight Mahjong that rounds, at least in the South half of the game, will repeat if no one wins, even if East wasn’t in Tenpai. What this means is that the same round might last for 10 games in a row, and the only way to break out is to go for a win or hope a non-dealer computer pulls something off. Games that should have taken maybe half an hour total ended up taking about twice that.

Still, it is mahjong and definitely plays like mahjong, so if you happen to be flying to Korea (or wherever, as I assume this specific version appears elsewhere), and you have a desperate mahjong itch, you’ll know how to handle it.

There was a big to-do recently when Anita Sarkeesian over at Feminist Frequency received a barrage of nasty comments over her Kickstarter to fund a project to analyze common tropes concerning female characters in video games. A lot of the commentary was as you might (unfortunately) expect, citing her supposed jealousy of better looking women, her “hypocrisy” over wearing makeup, as well as threatening her with rape. Even if most of this turns out to just be purposeful button-pressing in order to get a rise out of her, it’s still pretty sad that it came down to this.

I do not think people should have to agree with her just “because” she’s feminist, but at the same time I do wish people would come up with better arguments against her ideas and her points than simply things like “sexualization happens to men too” (the nature of the sexualization is nowhere near the same).

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is already more than well-funded as of this post, but having watched her previous videos in the Tropes vs. Women series, I still want to say something about my hopes and worries about the project.

While Sarkeesian makes overall good points in her videos pertaining to the types of tropes which can reinforce images of women as passive beings in service to more fully developed men, I find that her videos tend to take something of a sledgehammer approach to addressing problems. Tackling big problems with big answers is a valid method, and it does result in points which are more readily and sharply conveyed, but there is a loss of nuance in discussing specific tropes she addresses as a result, possibly due to the brevity required in making short videos.

The consequences of this loss of subtlety is that the presentation of the tropes themselves seem to center around the idea of the trope itself being sexist more than its overuse (though both are considered culprits). For the Women in Refrigerators trope, the idea of a side or major supporting character dying in order to drive the hero to action is a recurring theme throughout fiction, be it with men or women, and the use of a girl as the “sacrifice” is not so much the problem as it is the degree to which it happens in superhero comic books, a genre which is all about power and inspiration.

Similarly, in her discussion of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she criticizes the character type for being something of a vague supernova of inspiration for the leading male character, lacking in qualities to make her fully realistic. To that I have to ask, since when does more realistic automatically equal a better character? While I certainly see the advantages and have argued for the strength of such characterization before, there is something to be said for characters who are their concepts distilled to an extreme. Furthermore, it risks leaving no room for the trope to be turned into something which can be positive for women without having to completely subvert it.

When it comes to Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, my hope is that Sarkeesian will not come at the female characters of video games with a “one strike” policy. While there are plenty of girls to be rescued and recurring roles for girls that can be explored and criticized extensively, I hope that she does not view individual characteristics isolated from each other, but rather sees the characters as a whole. In the end, any judgment she makes is hers, and characters can and will end up being considered problematically sexist (because let’s not kid ourselves, video games do have them), but if a character has positive traits in addition to negative or even harmful ones, they should be acknowledged in order to show where games have managed to make smaller progressive steps in addition to bigger ones.

When Tecmo’s Dead or Alive 5 was first announced, the developers express the desire to portray their female characters better than they had in the past, with Team Ninja’s head developer Hayashi Yosuke even mentioning in an interview that “we’re trying to focus on the real women that surround us; the voice of a female, the mannerisms. We are being realistic about it.”

The DOA franchise has always been known for its sex appeal, from the first game’s available option to set level of breast jiggling to the Xtreme Beach Volleyball series where the girls trade their fighting uniforms for bikinis, so the promise of increased realism and improved depictions of women led to a some questions. Just what did they mean by real women, and could this fall flat on its face? Thus, although the guest appearance of Virtua Fighter protagonist Akira Yuki was the main headline, the new promotional trailer for Dead or Alive 5 is significant in that it gives us our first glimpse at just what the developers were aiming for.

Kasumi, main heroine, in DOA4 (left) and DOA5 (right)

Given the comparison image above and the statements from Hayashi, I think it’s clear that the changes to Kasumi’s look are not caused solely by improvements in graphics technology in the 7-year time span between the games. While Kasumi is still meant to be obviously attractive, there has been a bit of a reduction in her breast size and her face is substantially different, coming across as indeed “more realistic.” In fact, given the track record of the series, where greater realism could have meant shapelier breasts, Team Ninja has done a better job than probably anyone expected.


Ayane, Kasumi’s sister and rival, in DOA4 (left) and DOA5 (right)

Another feature that’s not really obvious without another character for comparison purposes is that DOA5 looks to be making more of an effort to give each character a more distinguishing face. When you look at any of the girls in previous titles, there isn’t much difference in their facial structure, andhen you look at the DOA4 versions of Kasumi and Ayane especially, they’re not that different from one another. With DOA5 however, their faces have substantial differences. They’re still designed to be attractive, and they still have similarly idealized bodies, but there seems to be an effort to vary the characters by more than their costumes and three sizes.

One element of Kasumi and Ayane’s newfound realism is that she seems to come across as “more Asian” than their previous iterations. Even though I haven’t actually seen this point discussed, I feel like this could potentially lead back to an argument concerning the appearance of anime characters where Japanese characters supposedly look “white” or distinctively “non-Japanese,” and that there may be some underlying psychological and historical reasons for making Japanese not look Japanese. The counter-argument to this has been that to assume the wide eyes of anime characters somehow equals “whiteness” is a cultural assumption in and of itself, but in the face of these revised looks, how does this hold up?

When I look at DOA4 Kasumi, even though her face comes across as “less Asian,” I still find that it comes across as more Asian than anything else, especially when compared to the non-Asian characters. And actually, Asianness and Whiteness as a binary is probably the most important mistake to avoid. Instead, the key difference is in another type of realism. In previous versions the characters come across across as more plastic and doll-like, especially in the eyes, with Kasumi’s own doe-like gaze, for example, acting more like an element of innocent seductiveness than anything else. In somewhat of a contrast, Kasumi in DOA5‘s eyes aren’t more realistic just because they’re closer to an Asian’s eyes in the real world, but because there is a sign of personality behind them.

I think the change in not just the way the characters’ eyes are, but the way in which they stare speaks towards what Hayashi meant when he referred to “the real women around us.” To some extent, this is aided by the improvement in technology, but it still requires the desire to move in that direction. Even as Kasumi continues to act as the sexy poster girl for the franchise, and while it can also be argued that her (and everyone else’s) bodies are ridiculous, I think that from what we’ve seen, Team Ninja actually seems quite serious about making the changes to the franchise that they promised.

For those who don’t get it: Reference #1, Reference #2.

Recently, I was compelled to watch the Kiddy Grade opening, followed by the opening to its sequel, Kiddy Girl-and. For those of you who have never seen either show, I can best sum up the series as being a “girls with guns, maybe” show in a futuristic science fictional setting, and probably one of the shows that sticks out in people’s minds when you say “Studio Gonzo.”

Actually, the shows can probably best be summed up by watching the openings, which I invite you to do. Don’t worry about it, I’ll wait.

The original was fairly popular back in 2002, and seven years later out came its sequel, which I heard was not that well-received even by the typical diehard Japanese anime fan. Regardless of success or lack thereof however, when I watch those openings back to back, I can feel the flow of seven years of anime history, more than I can with other comparable methods. I can watch all of the Cutie Honey and Gegege no Kitarou openings and perceive the changes that have occurred over decades, but I can’t feel quite as much as with Kiddy Grade. I think the reason this difference exists in me is because this past decade was the time when I as an anime fan (and many others) could watch new shows within days or week of Japan, a dream at best for most people prior to the advent of the internet. I was there, man. It was intense (no it wasn’t).

But I don’t think it’s just the fact that I lived in this period that gives me the sensation of time flowing. It’s a definite factor, no doubt about it, but I think there’s also something different about the qualities of each opening, not just the fact that they feature different characters with different personalities, but also the way they introduce their content. Thus, though I’ve seen both shows either in part or in whole, I’m going to be thinking about them purely from what their openings have to stay about them (though I will be using their names for convenience’s sake).

The Kiddy Grade opening aims to give a sense of intrigue while introducing its main characters as two mysterious and attractive ladies. Eclair, the brown-haired one, is leggy and busty and is portrayed as the “muscle.” The “brains,” Lumiere, is decidedly younger in appearance, and seems to be taken from the same quiet, blue-haired mold as Evangelion‘s Ayanami Rei and Nadesico‘s Hoshino Ruri, though with significantly more smiling. Every scene has them contrasted with each other in some ways, whether it’s Eclair shooting a gun vs. Lumiere throwing a wine bottle, Eclair standing on one side with her lipstick whip with Lumiere and her “data trails” on the other, or the “kiss” scene, again, to create intrigue, sexual or otherwise.

The Kiddy Girl-and opening on the other hand is anything but mysterious in its presentation. It seems to want to convey an everyday sense of fun, and the two main girls are decidedly sillier in the intro compared to Eclair and Lumiere. They also are less different from one another compared to their Kiddy Grade counterparts, with Ascoeur (the pink-haired one) and Q-Feuille (the purple-haired one) having closer body types, though it’s clear that the former is bubblier than the latter. Rather than being presented as enigmas, Ascoeur and Q-Feuille are up-close. Personal, even.

Of course I can’t ignore the music itself either. Music isn’t my specialty, but I can tell you that Kiddy Girl-and‘s song is clearly sung by the voice actors of the heroines, whereas Kiddy Grade‘s with its mellow tones is not, and both songs lend themselves to the descriptions I gave. While having the seiyuu sing the opening was nothing new in anime even before 2002 (Slayers, Sakura Wars, to name a couple), I’d say that they’re supposed to be singing as the characters in the Kiddy Girl-and opening.

So then what are the big changes that this transition between openings represents? Well I don’t know if I’d call them “big” per se, but I feel that the Kiddy Grade opening exemplifies what was typical of its time, and the same goes for the Kiddy Girl-and opening. The much more “futuristic” vibe of the Kiddy Grade opening leads to the future-as-typical feel of its sequel’s intro, in a sense representing an increase in slice-of-life/”the everyday,” as well as a move away showing narrative-type elements as a prominent reason to watch. I wouldn’t go as far to say that this is an example of Azuma Hiroki-esque breakdown of the anime “Grand Narrative” though, as that’s a lot more complicated than just “less plot in anime.” Of course, there’s also the feeling that “moe” has changed as well, as I think that all four girls are supposed to be “moe” to certain extents, and seeing how their “moe” is conveyed in those openings is probably more indicative of that seven-year gap than anything else.

Neither of the shows are particularly amazing or special, and are probably best described as “the median” or “mediocre” anime, depending on how kind you want to be. However, that’s exactly why I think their contrast shows the path anime has taken so well, because while it’s great to see how the really pioneering, experimental, and enormously popular works operate, looking at the middle of the road gives a good idea of how anime as a whole moves.

Once again in lieu of actually learning how to make AMVs, I have been abusing Tubedubber to do my bidding.

Here’s a few you might enjoy. I recommend reloading twice to (hopefully) sync the video and the audio up properly.

Play the Game

Love Triangle

Big Ponies

Heroes Everywhere

Dragon Soul

Recently, after years away from the Naruto anime, I decided to check out a few recent episodes of the second series,  Naruto Shippuuden. Watching the opening, I saw the Konoha ninjas fighting off an invasion of their home village, with each character getting their own time in the sun, as if the intro wanted to tell you that each and every character is Important. Given the immense cast of Naruto and the 90 second limit of the opening, this means that each character gets no more than a few moments. In fact, Uzumaki Naruto himself, our titular protagonist, hardly has more screen time than others. All in all, the opening is quite hectic.

Afterwards, I decided to go back and watch the very first Naruto opening, and right from when the orange ninja beckoned me to “C’mon,” I was getting an entirely different feel from  the Shippuuden intro. Instead of the scores of figures that currently populate the series, the first opening features only four characters. Rookie ninjas Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, as well as their teacher and leader Kakashi are each focused upon extensively, and it makes the newest opening feel almost claustrophobic by comparison.

Part of this has to do with the open-endedness of the first opening. With no specific plot developments to hint at, it’s as if the characters and the intro itself are given room to breathe. You get a real sense that these characters are important, Naruto in particular. In a way, it’s quite relaxing.

I compared Bleach openings, too. Once again, the simple, yet heavy emphasis the first opening puts on Ichigo and Rukia differs a good deal from the almost overwhelming number of characters featured in the current opening. Taking a step back, the sheer contrast between then and now seems to speak towards the character bloat that the most popular shounen fighting series almost inevitably experience. If you go and watch every opening back to back, be it Bleach or Naruto, you can really experience the cast creep.

Having an enormous cast of characters in a shounen title is not anything new. Kinnikuman for example sports so many wrestlers that it can be difficult to keep track of everyone. However, the anime’s openings do not try to partition roughly the same amount of time for every character. They do not try to say that everyone else is almost as important as Kinnikuman himself. And while there are a number of differing factors between Kinnikuman and Naruto, not least of which is the fact that Naruto simply has more openings, I think it also highlights the increased focus on a “pick your favorite” method of presenting characters in anime and manga.

Essentially, I believe the reason that later Naruto and Bleach openings feature so many characters with roughly equal screen time is that they know each character has their own fanbase, and they want those fans to feel that their favorites are getting treated right. While I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with this, it still makes me miss those simpler times, when it was mainly just Ichigo and Rukia.

If you want to check out the openings I’ve referred to in this post, Crunchyroll has the latest episodes of Naruto and Bleach. As for the older ones, I’ve provided links below. Keep in mind that due to copyright policies and such, most of these videos are modified somewhat, usually by making them widescreen when they originally weren’t.

Naruto Opening 1

Bleach Opening 1

Kinnikuman Opening 1

Kinnikuman Opening 4

A while ago, I found a series of videos on Nico Nico Douga wherein manga characters from the first volume of their respective titles are compared to their later incarnations in the same series. In most instances, this is done to show some kind of great contrast, either by a marked improvement in drawing ability or an unusually large shift in style. I think it’d be to everyone’s benefit to take a look, and because I understand that not everyone has a Nico account or wants to fumble with the Japanese language registration, I’ve taken the liberty of uploading all three videos to Youtube. You can find them at the bottom of this post.

Regardless of how exactly the change comes about, the shift or transformation in art style seems to most often come from increasing familiarity. Speaking somewhat from personal experience, when you first start to draw a character, even if you’ve planned them out extensively, there’s still a period of struggle where the character’s design and by extension their personality and physical language are not yet ingrained in your psyche. The more you draw the characters, the more natural they feel to you, possibly eventually reaching a point where you’re so comfortable with them that your aesthetic sense and personality start to shine through the characters, almost subconsciously. It’s like your body and mind start to prioritize what’s really important to you, and I think you will definitely see this happening for at least a good number of your favorite artists.

So take a look, be amazed, and lay down your own thoughts and feelings about art in manga. If you’d all prefer, I can even compile a list of all of the artists and titles mentioned here.

At Otakon 2010, voice acting veteran Mitsuya Yuuji (or Yuji Mitsuya) was a goldmine of valuable information about the industry and the art of voice acting, using his own experience as a complete seiyuu rookie on Choudenji Robo Combattler V as an example During the panel, he mentioned that an interesting exercise is to compare a voice actor’s performance in the first episode to their performance in the final episode.

Taking that suggestion to heart and expanding on it a little further, I’ve compiled a clip of Mitsuya’s voice acting progression from the beginning to end of Combattler V‘s 54 episodes. Not every episode is shown here, but it still gives a good indication of how much effort he put into improving.

Early on, you can hear that he’s clearly an amateur and not entirely sure what to do with the role. He also sounds much deeper, having not yet hit upon the right voice for the main hero Hyouma. You can also hear him experimenting with all sorts of ways to say Combattler V’s name, stretching this syllable, shortening that one and so on. Towards the middle around when the story starts to really ramp up, he puts a lot more intensity into his performance. Then, in the second half you’ll notice that he’s starting to find a “standard” of sorts on how to shout, “Combattler….V!” until it pretty much solidifies, for better or worse.

Remember that this was Mitsuya’s debut role, and here you can really see his growth as a voice actor. It’s no wonder he’d go on to form his own voice acting school.

At his panel, Mitsuya placed great emphasis on the fact that a lot of male voice actors these days try too hard to maintain the “coolness” of their characters and don’t put their all into their performances, citing that this probably has to do with the fact that not nearly as many voice actors these days come from a theatre background (if any at all). It’s interesting then to think about how Mitsuya’s own theatrical experience still had to be molded to fit voice acting.

As a bonus, take a look at his performance in 2000′s Super Robot Wars Alpha, where he has to perform the same line as in the above video roughly 25 years later. Skip to 0:46 to hear it (or watch the whole video, it’s cool). Amazingly, his voice appears to have gone up with age.

I don’t remember when exactly it happened, but at some point in the 2000s, New York City got a couple of new Chinese radio stations. Currently on AM 1480 (Cantonese) and AM 1380 (Mandarin), these stations provide much-needed entertainment and news to people who are not as comfortable listening to English language radio stations. But they also provide something else, something I can only describe as “mind-boggling song selections that appear half-born out of geekery.”

What do I mean? Well, back when the radio stations were first starting out, I noticed an oddly familiar song amidst the usual selection of Chinese-language pop music. It stood out for a number of reasons, not least of which was that it was purely instrumental. As the ominous tune played on, it suddenly hit me: It was Kefka’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI.

“What? Really?” What was this doing on Chinese radio? What absolute nerd was in charge of music programming?

But aside from the occasional Utada Hikaru song, there wasn’t much else. Not much else that is, until the station started playing the theme song from The A-Team.

And no, it was not that one song from Full Metal Panic!

Once again, I had to question just who was in charge of selecting the songs for the Chinese residents of New York City. I have no idea how popular The A-Team was or is with Chinese people, but I don’t even think that’s a factor.

Then yesterday, I heard the most unusual song of all. This time the song was entirely in Cantonese, but it sounded odd, or at least odd for a tune on the radio, resembling more the theme of a TV drama or 80s anime than anything else. Like Kefka’s Theme years earlier, it started to sound more and more familiar. Then the chorus hit and I realized that it was a Cantonese version of Sentimental Over the Shoulder from Megazone 23 (Part 1).

So here I am, trying to find this mysterious Chinese rendition of Eve’s famous song, and I simply cannot do it. I definitely did not imagine it, but I honestly have no idea what I should even be searching for. Does anyone out there listen to WZRC AM 1480? And are you a huge anime nerd? Because if so, maybe you can help me identify just where exactly this song came from and who exactly sings it.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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