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Note: As is evidenced by some of my recent posts, I’ve been quite into the new Super Smash Bros. as of late, and have been participating in online discussions more because of it. Rather than keeping those posts in forums or on other sites, however, I’ve decided to also include them here as “supplemental” blog posts.

Taken from Smashboards:

I’m not competitive on the level of anyone in this discussion thread, but I wanted to post in here just because the direction of this conversation is one that I’ve seen fought a million times over in multiple competitive gaming communities. I’m not a game designer so I can’t say firsthand what works and what doesn’t, but what I mainly want to say is that it’s very easy to take a firm position on how competitive games “should be” but it risks inadvertently accusing others of making or even playing games “incorrectly.”

Sirlin usually comes up in these arguments because of his emphasis on yomi and how polarizing it can be. To simplify Sirlin for a bit, he believes that execution barriers are the devil and if we could all play with purely our thoughts and intentions games would be much better. Essentially, Sirlin wants games to answer the question, who is the superior thinker? It makes sense, but mainly if you see games as “brains over brawn.”A number of years back Sirlin took a class on Starcraft Brood War that was being given at a university, and from his perspective one of the issues with Brood War is how tedious the game is in terms of things you have to click to even play the game at a remotely decent level. I can’t remember the exact words, but he basically suggested something like a maximum cap to APM so that who presses buttons faster wouldn’t be a measure of skill. Instead, it would be about using your actions wisely instead of simply some people getting more opportunities than others. Naturally, the Brood War community disagreed. It loved the idea of APM as an execution barrier, or more specifically the combination of speed and precision needed to use it effectively. It separated chumps from champs, and when a great player is able to build his army so perfectly because he never misses a beat in his production cycles, it’s viewed as a thing of beauty.

We’ve heard it over and over again that fun is subjective. It’s the rebuttal that competitive Smash players use against the argument that they’re playing the game wrong because they don’t embrace the free for all chaos that Smash advertises itself as. It applies here too: different people get satisfaction out of games differently, and this includes competitive gaming as well. In other words, while Sirlin views games as a domain of the mind, some people like the idea of being able to defeat brains with brawn even in games. They like the idea that they can train up their “muscles”, and that, by being bigger, faster, and stronger too, even the most brilliant tactical mind in the world wouldn’t be able to keep up.

For some, mastering a frame-perfect 50-hit combo in an anime fighter sounds like the most tedious thing ever. You sit around, committing things to muscle memory, hardly a showing of your mental skill. However, for others, improving your ability to read the player and to think more critically in a match is too abstract a reward. Others still might believe that the true test of skill comes from managing luck and taking advantage of uncertainty, as in games like mahjong or Texas Hold ‘em. Depending on where you fall between those two extremes, different games appeal to different people because of what they believe “competition” means. Bobby Fischer famously promoted a version of chess where starting positions were randomized because he believed that chess was becoming too reliant on memorizing openings, but it didn’t stick because, most likely, people on some level liked being able to improve by having superior memorization compared to their opponents (inertia from years and years of tradition was probably a factor as well).

I think the implicit disagreement as to how games should be competitive is what creates such tension within Smash Bros. itself. You have this massive clash of philosophies within a single franchise, and even within a single game. Putting aside the fact that Melee is more mechanically difficult than Smash 4 (as far as we know), and that this has created some dissatisfaction for players who believe the Melee way is the best, even Smash 4 itself has different philosophies behind its characters which can cater to different people’s idea of “competitive fun.” We’ve seen the argument that Sonic’s gameplay is degenerative because it forces the opponent to have to guess where he’s going to be and throw out moves in the hopes of catching Sonic, but there are people who love the idea of games as gambles, of having to shoot into the darkness because there’s a thrill in being able to more effectively navigate uncertainty. This isn’t to deny the frustration fighting Sonic can create, nor is it an argument that Sonic or any other character is balanced or imbalanced. Rather, it’s about the fact that different characters in Smash end up embodying different concepts of competitive play, and when they clash there’s always the chance that arguments of a character being bad for gameplay for being too simple or complex or whatever. It’s important to think beyond our own conception of competitive fun and to be able to see from the perspective of others.

I’ve been playing quite a bit of the new Super Smash Bros., first for Nintendo 3DS and soon for Wii U. In both cases I waited in line along with millions of other folks with the intention of playing the game until the cows come home. In celebration of the true beginning of the 4th generation of Smash Bros., I’d like to talk about the idea of using “inferior” characters.

Whenever I see a comment that X or Y character is garbage, something compels me to try that character out. I don’t consider myself an exceptionally talented player, nor am I going to win any tournaments any time soon. Even if i were, I also definitely don’t think I will be responsible for revolutionizing any character’s style or for defying tier lists in a major way, like Taj did for Mewtwo or aMSa has done for Yoshi in Melee. Instead, I think what prompts me to start delving into seemingly weaker characters is that when I see others so strongly deny a character’s ability to compete, it makes me genuinely curious.

Is this character really as bad as they say? Is there perhaps some aspect to the character that may have been overlooked? While in the end they might very well be right and a certain character could end up being the bottom of the barrel, often times I feel as if there is some incompatibility between a player’s preferred style and a character’s attributes that could lead to a bit of wasted potential (even if that potential might not be particularly high). For example, I often see “this character has no combos!” on a character not built for combos, or using a very aggressively oriented character defensively or vice versa.

It’s like there’s something peculiar at work in the minds of players, at times unspoken philosophies which dictate how an individual approaches their game. Case in point, when players/commentators Scar and Toph discuss why Melee player Hax is not a Captain Falcon at heart due to his preference for perfect, impenetrable technical skill over relying on reading the opponent. I want to try and adapt myself to different frames of mind for different characters.

My current project is Meta Knight. He’s had something of a fall from grace since Brawl where he was the undisputed best character, but there are all these little aspects of the character that make me feel as if those who regard Meta Knight as terrible are perhaps missing something vital to the character. Of course, now there’s a patch and Meta Knight has gained some extra tools, but even before that I felt that while I wasn’t going to wow the world with my Meta Knight, as I practiced and saw more of his ins and outs, I honestly felt that it was possible to put all the pieces together and create a formidable opponent, or at least one who would put up a decent fight against all opponents. Now that he’s been augmented in certain areas (notably killing power), things will probably be easier.

This is less a point of pride for me and more a learning process. If you read this blog and are familiar with my anime and manga content, I think you might see this approach applied there as well. Of course, unlike anime and manga in Smash Bros. there’s really only one criteria for how strong something is (how often it wins), but I think that difference is sort of inevitable.

I’ll see you online!

Although I watched the original TV series of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, only recently did I finally see the movie trilogy. I’ve already laid out quite a few of my thoughts about the series including its status as a magical girl show  and how I felt about its ending, but revisiting Madoka has prompted me to contemplate certain aspects of the series some more.

Back when the Madoka Magica TV series first concluded, I remember kransom mentioning to me that one of the reactions from the Japanese fandom was this idea that Madoka was essentially the bookend for the era of anime that began with Neon Genesis Evangelion. That sounds pretty lofty and exaggerated, but when I was watching the movie I was reminded of the amount of indecision that goes into Madoka’s character. One of the questions throughout the anime is whether or not Madoka will indeed become a magical girl, but when she doubts and hesitates it’s shown to actually be to her advantage, while for Shinji it’s considered a clear sign of his weak, pathetic nature. The notion that lacking resolve can in some sense be a good thing because it means you think more carefully about the consequences and those around you is something that can be easily swallowed up by a society that tends to prioritize “getting things done no matter what.”

Another thing that struck me watching Madoka again was the presence of the abstract, mosaic-like qualities of the Witch realms by Gekidan Inu Curry. I was already familiar with his work from the Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei intros, but when I thought about the fact that this bizarre yet beautiful work has been utilized in shows like Madoka, it made me wonder how many people have been exposed to this more unorthodox artistic style that would not have given it the time of day otherwise. I think it’s often easy to criticize SHAFT as a studio for taking on shows that frantically emphasize otaku tastes, but that very quality of “moe” (or “captivation” if you will) has also been the door into a higher level of artistic expression that isn’t quite as bound by the conventions of anime, if only temporarily.

Anyway, I might do a review of the movies, especially the third one, but no guarantees on that.

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As an anime and manga blog largely focused largely on commercial output, it is rare that I will report on and review an Art Show in all of its capitalized glory. However, I feel it important to discuss the “Empty God Core” show at the B²OA Gallery, featuring the works of Japanese artist Umezawa Kazuki.

I am well aware of the fact that anime and manga have been subjects of exploration, self-discovery, and exploitation since at least Murakami Takashi and his “superflat” movement. Often times challenging and presenting the exoticism of Japan’s visual culture, artists like Murakami tend to feel as if they come not from the otaku subculture itself, but are reacting to it as it has grown over times. While I would not go so far as to say that this is some unforgivable flaw in his work, that he may not be a “true” otaku, it does make me notice when a piece of art conveys the perspective of someone who has embraced the lights and sounds of anime and manga as almost existential hazes.

That is the impression I received from Umezawa’s work, though even before I saw the actual show itself I had an opportunity to meet him for the first time thanks to our mutual friend, Ko Ransom. If there is anything that stood out to me most about him at first glance, it would have been his A Certain Scientific Railgun pins adorning his clothing. The one most prominent could be seen on his chest, a chibi version of Nunotaba Shinobu, my favorite character in the Index universe. A teenage scientist with a propensity for interlacing her speech with English, Nunotaba comes nowhere near the default choices for popular characters in her series, so I knew that Umezawa was serious business.

That being said, while I was aware that Umezawa was an otaku before I saw “Empty God Core,” I would have jumped to that conclusion almost immediately if I had come in without knowing a thing. Umezawa’s works consist largely of collages of anime characters, scrambled to the point of almost losing all recognizable qualities, and then rearranged to create futuristic, apocalyptic landscapes and large, god-like figures. I say “almost,” because the first thing I spotted in one of his digital paintings was the characteristic blonde poof of Cure Peace from Smile Precure! Soon after, I spotted bits of other characters as well, but it made me realize how distinct Precure hair is designed to be, so that, even divorced from the very bodies on which they sit, one can see that, yes that over there is a piece of Cure Blossom, and down by the side is Cure Beauty. The iconic nature of anime and manga characters jumps to the forefront, and their fragments are used to construct worlds.

There is a general idea when it comes to anime fandom that a lot of its qualities arose from the perception of 1980s Japan as a kind science fictional space. Like Blade Runner, which envisioned a future city amalgamated from Tokyo and various Chinatowns, the common discourse positions otaku as products of their time, and their subculture a result of changes to the world, the economy, and the degree to which societal values crumble or ossify in response. In this environment, otaku have historically been viewed in a negative light, people who cannot confront reality, loners who can only consume their media in ways which reinforce their divorce from society, while anime and manga become increasingly shallow and lacking in any real substance. What Umezawa’s work does is flip that script on its head, and show how this otaku subculture and its inhabitants can utilize the “vapid” qualities of anime and manga and its devotion to signs and icons of cuteness, beauty, and sexuality as building blocks, as atoms to form universes. Rather than a dystopian cityscape creating the otaku, the otaku creates the dystopian cityscape. He turns lemonade into lemons.

This post is regrettably a little late, but if you’re in or around New York City, the show is running until November 15th. The B²OA Gallery is at 515 west 26th street in Manhattan, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am-6pm.

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Superhero revivals are a dime a dozen, but few are like The Shadow Hero by writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Sonny Liew. The basic idea behind the comic is that it provides an origin story to a hero who never had one, the golden age character known as the Green Turtle, but Yang and Liew take it further by essentially “reclaiming” the character for Asian-Americans.

Originally created by a man named Chu F. Hing, the publisher for The Green Turtle had tried to make its titular hero white. Hing, it is argued by Yang and Liew, appears to have defied this order by never showing the Green Turtle’s face, either having him face away from the reader or having his features obscured by a cape or something else. Yang and Liew take this further by actually making the Green Turtle undoubtedly Chinese-American, but what’s really remarkable about this series is that it manages to ground this character in both Chinese culture and that early 20th century United States in which they live so well that it actually made me realize I’ve been missing out on an important component of superhero comics all along.

While superheroes have been created since the beginning by people of practically every ethnicity (the most famous example being Superman’s Jewish creators), they have traditionally exuded predominantly a sense of whiteness. This does not make them bad stories or bad superheroes. Nor does it make them unrelatable. I don’t need to have my uncle shot and killed to understand why Peter Parker takes Uncle Ben’s famous great power, great responsibility line to heart. After all, I’m mostly a manga reader and I do not connect all that directly to Japanese culture, either. However, what’s amazing about The Shadow Hero is that, as an Asian-American, the relationship the protagonist Hank Chu has with his family hits so close to home that it makes me feel as if my own culture, that hybrid of my parents’ values and the values of the country I was born and raised in, is being expressed right there on the page.

The best example I can think of comes fairly early in the story, when Hank’s mom is rescued by a Superman-like hero and becomes enamored with the idea of superheroes in general. Wanting the best for her son, she decides Hank should be a superhero too, and goes above and beyond to try to make it happen. Whether it’s dragging him close to chemical spills or getting him to train in martial arts, the mother has her mind set on the idea that the best future for Hank is for him to don a cape and tights and fight crime.

When I replaced the word “superhero” with doctor, lawyer, engineer, pharmacist, or whatever is the most current profession that my parents and older relatives and their friends mention as being the most reliable path to success and prosperity, it all just clicked in my head. Here in The Shadow Hero was something my siblings and I, as well as many of the kids we knew growing up, would encounter on a regular basis. We knew their eagerness over this one thing could be a bit much, but we knew they meant well.

Other signs of Chinese culture can be found throughout. The main villain’s daughters are named after mahjong titles. When Hank first becomes a superhero, his mother makes him an outfit with the Chinese character for gold/money on it, because in Chinese culture it’s common to wish people well by saying that they’ll makes lots of money. This sounds like something you’d do to mock DC superhero Booster Gold, but here you can sense the mother’s earnestness, as well as Hank’s own conflicted feelings towards her.

For the longest time, I’ve felt that I do not look enough at comics that represent Asian American culture. Over the years, seeing David Brothers consistently question the marginalization of black characters in superhero comics and how this is reflective of the historic injustices done to the black community in the United States has made me aware of how little I look at my own culture in the mediums that I love. The Shadow Hero, and that sense of inherent cultural understanding I experienced, made me even more keenly aware that there is so much more I can do.

I recently finished Initial D: Final Stage, which brings the story of teenager Fujiwara Takumi and his inhuman drifting skills to a satisfying conclusion. I had been keeping up with Initial D on and off for almost 15 years now, which is kind of crazy to think about, but what was even bigger shock for me was realizing (thanks to the show’s ever-present exposition) that all of Initial D, whether that’s over 700 manga chapters or its anime equivalent, takes place in the narrative over a span of two years.

It’s nothing to get worked up over, and there are series with even more drastic disparities between publication and in-story time frames (see Akagi and Megatokyo), but there’s something about Initial D which feels different. It’s almost as if there were indeed 15 years’ worth of racing action crammed into two.

Other facts I wasn’t even aware of are that the manga itself ran for about 18 years, and that the author Shigeno Shuuichi was born in 1958. Somehow he was able to maintain the racing manga for almost two decades, rendering his work about as timeless as the very Eight-Six Trueno that’s at the center of Initial D.

Most of the fights in the mecha anime Aldnoah.Zero follow a roughly similar pattern: In a reversal of the typical structure of giant robot combat, a technologically superior and seemingly invincible enemy is overcome by the tactics and ingenuity of the protagonist Inaho and his allies without the need of secret prototype weapons or trump cards. What I think makes these battles and the opponents’ eventual defeats work really well both narratively and thematically is that their downfall is usually based on them being blinded by arrogance.

One might argue that this is unrealistic, or more specifically that an opponent with such an edge in terms of firepower would likely not have overlooked some of the weaknesses that end up being exploited by Inaho. However, given the culture of the Vers Empire, the feudalistic space culture that attacks the Earth, I find that it makes a lot of sense. The subjects of the Vers Empire, especially their “Orbital Knights,” have been raised to believe that they are inherently better than people from Earth, and that this superiority derives from their discovery and use of a powerful technology called the “Aldnoah Drive.” While from our perspective it’s easy to point out that the “inherent” superiority of the Vers is anything but because it derives from an outside source in the Aldnoah Drive, actually history has shown that similar reasoning, as strangely illogical as it can seem, has often been used to justify similar mindsets or even forms of racism.

Consider the hypothetical example of a nation of people who believe they are simply better than their neighbors because they were born on land that was more arable. Although one could easily say that this is just a matter of luck or probability to an extent, it wouldn’t seem that strange for them to believe that they were somehow blessed by God or some other great power, and that they deserve this blessing on some fundamental level. It’s circular reasoning to be sure, but that doesn’t necessarily stop anyone from believing it.

Thus, the Orbital Knights believe that they are inherently superior in every way over the Terrans, therefore they receive the more powerful technology, therefore they are inherently superior in every way over the Terrans. They buy so much into not only the idea that the people of Earth are too stupid to figure anything out, but that they actually have no Achilles’ heels to exploit in the first place. With nothing to challenge them and without even acknowledging that they may have overlooked something in their robots (or “Kataphrakts” as Aldnoah.Zero calls them), potentially preventable defeats are addressed too late.

It’s come to my attention that within the next couple of months or so, three of the manga I love and have kept up with for many years are concluding. These titles would be Mysterious Girlfriend X, Fujoshissu!, and 81 Diver, and each of these titles has a special place in my heart.

Mysterious Girlfriend X

Each work appeals to me in different ways, though they all have the recurring theme of “bizarre romance.” However, of the three, this concept applies to Mysterious Girlfriend X the most, and it might very well be Mysterious Girlfriend X which first introduced me to the genre. Mysterious Grilfriend X is a work that I find to be often misunderstood as some drool fetish extravaganza, and once it ends I’ll definitely be writing a review of the whole thing. In the meantime, you can read it online at Crunchyroll.

Fujoshissu!

Of all of the manga starring fujoshi main character, Fujoshissu! is my favorite outside of Genshiken. I’ve mentioned it on Ogiue Maniax in the past, but I regret not talking about it more actively. What I like is that it’s a fun shoujo manga about three friends at various stages of their respective romances and how they (mostly) comfortably incorporate their personal lives into their otaku selves. Like Mysterious Girlfriend X, I’d also like to write a more extensive review when all is said and done. Though not available in English (by any means), you can read the first (and last!) chapter on Comic Walker in Japanese.

81 Diver

81 Diver is possibly the most hilarious manga I’ve ever read, at least Kinnikuman-level. Fortunately, I’ve already written a review of it which I still stand by, but might still do a final wrap-up (though I’m many volumes behind so it’ll take a while). It’s a shougi-themed manga that is great because, and not in spite, of its ugliness.

In a way, it’s like he end of not just one era but rather multiple ones. I feel as if I came to each of these manga at different points in my life, and they’ve rewarded me by being unique, unusual manga that make me feel good to be a fan.

 

 

Over on the Smash Bros. subreddit a poster by the name of Revven made a post advising people not to go into the upcoming Smash Bros. games hoping to find the key aspect that makes it more like Melee (the competitive gold standard of the franchise) but to approach it on its own terms.

In order to help people understanding this point, I wrote up an analogy that’s turned out to be pretty effective, so I’m posting it here for posterity.

Imagine that Melee is pizza. People love it, it’s got all of this flavor and depth.

Then Brawl comes out and it’s chicken soup.

Obviously, a lot of people would prefer pizza over chicken soup, but then you hear some of the complaints: “What the hell is this? This tastes all wrong!” people declare. “I’m trying to pick up a slice but my hands just get all wet, and I try to eat it with a fork but I barely get anything!”

But there are people who are eager to “prove” that chicken soup is fine, and all it takes is finding and adding the right key ingredients. “Hey, it might be chicken soup now, but if we add some mozzarella and some tomato sauce, you’ll see that it’s great!” No matter what they do, though, it just doesn’t taste like pizza, it doesn’t feel like pizza, and people are disappointed in it even more.

In the end, it’s not wrong to like pizza more than chicken soup, and it might even be possible argue that pizza is a superior food in general. Hell, maybe Brawl wasn’t even a particularly good chicken soup and was just soup in a can. However, because people were unable to see or accept the fact that chicken soup isn’t pizza, they also failed to approach it on its own terms. Instead of trying to add the right seasoning that would match the flavor profile of chicken soup or using a spoon, all they had were hands dripping with broth, and a look of dissatisfaction.

 

 

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I had an epiphany recently: Stardust the Super Wizard is the American superhero comics equivalent of the anime Chargeman Ken!

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Even if you’ve never heard of either title there’s nothing to worry about, as their first point of similarity is that they’re both obscure titles which have garnered fanbases specifically due to their lack of quality. Their second point of similarity is that little effort is made to expand on the characters themselves, as both Ken and Stardust can be defined as 1) heroes 2) who kill villains and 3) that’s it.

The third point of similarity is what allows them to be spoken of in the same breath (not that I think people have), which is that both titles are utterly irresponsible when it comes to the stories they present. I don’t mean that they glorify violence or that they don’t send the proper moral messages or that they’re limited by the cultures in which they were created. The reason why I use the word “irresponsible” is that both Chargeman Ken! and Stardust the Super Wizard consist of adventures where, if one were to stop and think about what goes on in them, they break down into a kind of pure spectacle that isn’t so much morbid or horrific as it is just somewhat…thoughtless.

Chargeman Ken‘s most infamous episode is titled “Dynamite in the Brain.” I’d recommend you watch the video above first (it’s only 5 minutes long) to get the full impact, but to summarize: the episode is about an innocent scientist with a bomb implanted in his head, but rather than trying to figure out a way to remove the bomb, Ken decides to just unceremoniously dump the scientist out of his personal jet. As Ken activates the trap door underneath the scientists, he quickly says, “Professor Volga, please forgive me!” as Volga lands on an enemy aircraft and explodes. The thing that really drives home the sense of thoughtlessness though is the fact that at the end of the episode the characters are talking about how Volga, the man Ken literally ejected out of his ship and watched as he exploded in mid-air, is looking down from the skies above. It’s like giving a eulogy for someone you shot to death five minutes ago and expecting people to take you seriously.

Stardust the Super Wizard, unlike Ken, has a seemingly infinite array of superpowers which have little rhyme or reason, but similar to Ken his application of them shows little in the way of foresight by the character or the creator. Just look at the punishment he dishes out to the villains of his story, where the issue isn’t that his solutions are strangely grotesque but that they almost exist in another dimension of thought.

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stardust8

Both Chargeman Ken and Stardust the Super Wizard operate on a level beyond even GI Joe‘s image of sanitary militarism or the violent works of Nagai Go. And this is why they’d be the best crossover ever.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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