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yukitheater

This was originally supposed to be a post about my time with Yukitheater, a program that allows people to watch anime together in a virtual movie theater using their own in-game avatars. Unfortunately, Yukitheater doesn’t work terribly well with Macs, so I often found myself staring at blank screens. The result is that, as I write about Yukitheater, I can only largely talk about it in a conceptual sense, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

One of the classic dilemmas of the internet (or communication in general, one might say), is that the more convenient it becomes, the easier it also becomes to avoid actually interacting with others. Where once anime clubs and gatherings at friens’ houses became the default way to watch something, streams and downloads are right at out fingertips. Of course, I’m hardly the first person to write about this, nor do I think this is the fall of civilization. If that were the case, we’ve been falling since the dawn.

Fans of anime and other media do not necessarily just take this lying down, and so the idea of the “simulwatch” was born, where people will each individually load up a movie or an episode, synchronize their watches Parker Lewis style (am I dating myself?), and then use voice chat, Twitter, or some other social platform to talk. Twitch thrives on this model as a streaming platform, and Nico Nico Douga with its scrolling comments is exactly in this spirit as well, except that it plays with the idea of “real-time.” Yukitheater, as well as its predecessor, Garry’s Mod’s “Cinema” mod, are examples of trying to transform the simulwatch into a more immersive experience by creating a visual setting (the theater), and allowing for virtual avatars to run about and hurl popcorn (or whatever) at each other.

As someone who was an avid internet user in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the days of web rings and fifty billion search engines, Yukitheater seems like something of that era. More specifically, it feels like the kind of program people would have dreamed of back then amidst aspirations of “virtual reality” and the simple wonder that was talking to people on the other side of the world. If this were 14-year-old me, I would have been downright addicted to something like this, and indeed I spent many hours talking with people I never knew in real life about video games, anime, or whatever topic interested me.

While this might seem like an argument against Yukitheater as a kind of resuscitated relic, the relative anonymity it provides is something that I believe is sorely missing from today’s internet. When I grew up with the web, I saw it as a place where I didn’t necessarily pretend I was someone else, but I could step away from my life in school and with family. I could explore, and I could get away. Currently, however, the internet is more often than not an extension of one’s own existing reality. Facebook just gets you talking to people you already know. Rather than escape bullying by going online, the bullies can now follow you there. Although I have not used Yukitheater extensively, it appears to me to be an environment from an older time when one could indeed use the internet as an escape.

Yukitheater isn’t exactly a new idea. In many ways, it feels very much like Second Life or other similar online environments. I’m also likely projecting a lot of my own values onto Yukitheater, and so I’m aware that much of what I say is both subjective and subject to personal experience. A lot of things can go wrong with something like it, and I’m not even talking about the semi-frequent crashes (perhaps a symptom of Mac incompatibility). Still, I do find it fascinating that, in an age where the anime club no longer provides a “necessary” service (showing anime that is hard to find) with the communal aspect attached to it, now fans are actively seeking ways to connect with each other. Maybe this, more than anything else, is what defines one of the great generation gaps in anime fandom.

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Ume_Shiraume

I’m generally not a fan of yandere characters, but I feel that I can understand why some people love them.

In a lot of my favorite characters there is a kind of intensity that emanates from them. Whether it’s Ogiue from Genshiken‘s withering stare, or Urabe Mikoto’s eccentric behavior in Mysterious Girlfriend X, it’s like their very beings pierce my soul and linger there for a while.

From there, it’s a hop, skip, and jump towards tsundere, and then eventually yandere as well. In other words, yandere characters exist on a spectrum where powerful emotions (sexual or otherwise) are valued, and their feelings are so overwhelming that it warps their minds. “Deep love” they call it.

This intensity has gotten me to think more broadly, past the typical labels, such as yandere, genki girl, Kansai native, etc. What I’m beginning to form is a theory of character attraction that takes a lot of these categories and places them into two distinctions: “push characters” and “pull characters.”

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Push characters are like many of the ones stated above. It is as if the characters’ attitudes, visual look, and other qualities invade your space. They pierce and break down the barriers in your heart. Kurosaki Rendou, creator of Houkago Play and other racy titles, specializes in this type of character for both guys and girls. Akashi from Kuroko’s Basketball is also what I’d call a “push character.” They can perhaps be called aggressive characters as well, but I don’t think that it fits entirely neatly. Rather, in shounen terms, it’s more like they’re the “strong fists” of Rock Lee from Naruto or Raoh from Fist of the North Star.

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Pull characters, then, are more like the “gentle fists” of Hyuuga Hinata (Naruto) or Toki (Fist of the North Star). Rather than striking actively, their auras are passive and receptive. It is as if they have a gravity or magnetism that draws you to them. Softer, kinder characters would fall into this category, such as Daidouji Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura, Maetel from Galaxy Express 999, or Teppei from Kuroko’s Basketball. It’s as if their warmth envelops your being.

Now there are a few aspects I’m thinking through as I bring out this half-formed way of considering characters. The first is that, many characters probably don’t fall into one category or the other. Sort of like a Myer-Briggs personality test, the “lesser” quality still exists. For example, I’d consider Koizumi Hanayo from Love Live! to be a “pull character” because of her typically shy personality, but the excitement of her two main loves—rice and idols—is enough to transform her into a “push character.”

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Second, perhaps this distinction is actually entirely subjective, and one person’s “push character” is another person’s “pull character.” Does this render the terms meaningless, or is it more like moe where a broader understanding exists but the minutiae can get incredibly personal?

Lastly, to what extent do these terms match up with the idea of “seme” and “uke” characters in BL. Would “push characters” be those who tend to be seme, while “pull characters” are more commonly uke? If that’s the case, could this be a way to translate those terms to other types of relationships, such as heterosexual, yuri, or whatever other combinations can exist?

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What does it mean to create a follow-up act to a multimedia franchise as successful as Love Live!? That’s the challenge facing  Love Live! Sunshine!! To fans, each of the original girls is something special, something unique, and renewing that fervor can be like catching lightning in a bottle. Of course, a franchise like Love Live! is designed to do just that, across different characters and different iterations of the concept, but it’s still not necessarily an easy task. Though I might be jumping the gun with what I’m about to say, I think the people in charge of Love Live! might now have a much clearer idea of what is most effective, and this potentially manifests in the physical appearances of the characters themselves.
I decided recently to see how the physical characteristics of the μ’s girls stack up to those of Love Live Sunshine!!‘s Aqours. Thanks to Reddit, I found a convenient chart comparing all of their heights and bust sizes. What’s noticeable is that the Aqours members are all closer to each other physically. Toujou Nozomi and Yazawa Nico are at the extremes in terms of bust size (to no one’s surprise), but a character like Hanayo who is above average compared to the rest of μ’s is decidedly normal in the world of Love Live! Sunshine!! Similarly, while half-Italian American Ohara Mari is the tallest, the other girls are also relatively close to her. Keep in mind that the disparity is not especially large, especially when it comes to height. The difference between “tiny” Kunikida Hanamaru and “towering” Mari is a mere 4 inches (or 10 centimeters). Already, there’s a certain narrow range median that reminds me of something anime voice actress Nonaka Ai once mentioned when I interviewed her: she wanted to be an actress but was considered too tall. Similarly, Hanayo’s voice actress Kubo Yurika is the tallest of the μ’s cast. Like Mari, she is 5’4″ or 163 cm.

I think it’s worth entertaining the thought that the success of Love Live! School Idol Project, which grew gradually from a modest success to a cultural phenomenon, has informed the current version in terms of what is the best median to take, at least in terms of physical traits. Moreover, given the seaside venue of Love Live! Sunshine!!, I believe that there is a greater push for sex appeal, though I’m sure they’re aware that keeping the fanservice from going too overboard is important for maintaining Love Live!‘s large female fanbase.

That being said, while they’re more similar in size, I’m not sure the same applies to the characters’ personalities. In many ways, they feel more extreme and more adhered to certain archetypes, such as Yohane’s chuunibyou identity, Kurosawa Dia’s “Kanzuki Karin” levels of haughtiness, or her sister Ruby’s ultra moe shyness. The closest we have to Ruby in in the original was Hanayo, and at this point we’re aware that Hanayo is kind of a maniac. That doesn’t mean the Aqours characters are bad, however. In a way, perhaps it helps to distinguish them further from each other.

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Anime: A History by Jonathan Clements is a good book that tries its best to call out the rewriting of past events by both the victors and the defeated. While this can detract from the magical aura that surrounds anime and the joy of experiencing anime as more than just a struggle between industry, profit, and glory, it does highlight one recurring trend that shouldn’t be forgotten—many times, when we think of some trend or change as emerging fully formed during a given period of interest, its threads can be traced back much earlier.

One thing that always comes to mind is something that Gundam director Tomino Yoshiyuki mentioned back at New York Anime Festival 2009, which was that while Gundam started courting female fans much more actively in later years (notably with Gundam Wing), it was the girls who were the biggest fans of the original 1970s work. While things have certainly changed since then, Gundam Wing also did not emerge as some kind of “sudden” targeting of a female audience.

Similarly, when it comes to Clements’ book, one example he gives has to do with the idea that the video game industry is a significant contributor of “brain drain,” that is to say a unidirectional flow of talent from anime to games. While this is often viewed as a symptom of the last decade or so, a product of the mainstream lucrativeness of the contemporary video game industry, Clements points out (on page 194) that this was already occurring in 1992, which would be during the age of the Sega Mega Drive and the Super Famicom. Thus, the battle to keep newer and more rapidly expanding entertainment sectors from drawing away the best of the best is not a relatively new phenomenon, but an ongoing quest.

One last thing I’d like mention is the fact that this brain drain is partially attributed not just to video games’ international mainstream success, but the fact that Tezuka Osamu himself undercut the cost of animation in Japan decades prior in order to get it onto Japanese television. This undervaluing of anime, known as the “Curse of Tezuka,” is what necessitates projects such as the Animator Dormitory Project, an annual fund to provide housing for animators in an industry that pays very little (by the way, that Indiegogo ends today!). To see anime change in the future is perhaps to understand the long reach of past decisions.

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Love her or hate her, Okada Mari’s got quite a resume of anime at this point. I’ve written about what I think are her best works, and I’m curious to what extent people think I’m out of my mind.

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When the words “purity in anime” come up, I think the typical association is with sexual purity. Between past stories of fans being angry at individuals both fictional (Nagi from Kannagi) and real (Suzumiya Haruhi seiyuu Hirano Aya) for not being virgins, to the idol industry’s forbidding of relationships for its stars, there is a valuing of chastity that is often tinged with the desire for someone’s virginity to be in a state of limbo: always on the cusp of losing it, but never going to do so. At the same time, however, while sexual innocence is one form of purity, it’s not the only kind, and often it takes the form of a “naive perspective,” a “pure heart,” or a “child-like desire.”

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To shift the discussion away from female characters, I’d like to talk about perhaps the most famous character in all of anime: Son Goku. Suffice it to say, he needs no introduction, but one recurring trait of the character is that he is pure-hearted. It’s what allows him to ride Kintoun (Flying Nimbus). When confronted with the Devilmite Beam, an attack that turns one’s negative thoughts into damage, Goku is completely unaffected. Even as he fights planet-crushing adversaries, has two kids, and generally grows into an adult, Goku is still portrayed as innocent of mind. His love of fighting is genuine, and even sex doesn’t really change him.

Looking at more recent titles (unless you count Dragon Ball Super), a character like Nagisa in Clannad is supposed to be an epitome of innocence and purity, but by the time of After Story she’s married and is no longer a virgin. Even though her tragedy quotient shoots way up (as tends to happen in Key works), Nagisa is much like Goku in that sex doesn’t actually impact the sense of purity her character exudes. In terms of child-like desire, Haruka in Free! views the act of swimming similar to to how Goku approaches fighting. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the simple joy of the activity itself, whether that’s swimming to feel the thrill of the water regardless of competition, or wanting to test one’s strength against strong opponents. It’s as if the ultimate purity is one that maintains itself no matter the circumstances.

I can’t forget that there is a double standard when it comes to sex. Girls, be they fictional or real, are subjected to the issue of being “ruined” or considered “sluts” in a way that goes well beyond the limited world of idols where both sexes are subject to scrutiny. Nevertheless, I have to wonder if it’s possible for a character to be viewed as pure yet also sexually promiscuous? I don’t think it’s impossible. Perhaps even the enjoyment of sex can be portrayed innocently, even if that might not necessarily be realistic. That said, the degree to which people would be able to accept something like this is probably small in the grand scheme of industry and audience reactions, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing either. One question I wonder is how fans can reconcile a desire for purity in some cases with a strongly sexual presentation at the same time, but it might just have to do with having the option to shift responsibility, especially in the 2D realm of anime and the 2.5D realm of idols.

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In the first paragraph I mentioned Hirano Aya and her fall from grace due to the idea that she had sex with her band mates. The backlash essentially sent her from being the top otaku idol to only working in anime sparingly, but ultimately it’s my opinion that this has made her voice acting career better than ever. No longer is she pushed into roles that are tailored towards keeping her as that “goddess of anime.” She can be Migi, the alien symbiote in Parasyte. She can be Paiman, the weird panda-like hero in Gatchaman Crowds. She can be Dende, guardian of the Dragon Balls in Dragon Ball Super. It’s possible to look at her full CV and see that her acting is not limited to that which is most sexually thrilling or geared towards otaku appeal qualities. By de-coupling her from the very idea of virgin purity, her acting is arguably purer than ever before.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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Mario nabs a fire flower, instantly transforming into an engine of destruction. Enemies that previously gave the plumber pause are dispatched with ease as Mario rains hot death upon them. Yet Mario is in a rather fragile position, and brushing up against a single enemy will instantly revert Mario back to a lesser state. Even so, for that brief moment Mario experiences an exhilarating sense of power.

Mario appears in another game: Super Smash Brosfor Wii U. Here, the fireball is a permanent fixture of his arsenal. He cannot “lose” his fireball. However, what he can do is combo his opponent repeatedly, using a variety of quick moves to keep them pinned down and begging for mercy. However, when he’s ready to finish off his opponent, many of his combos are no longer as feasible, and he has to take risks to achieve the KO, changing the power dynamics of the character.

How does the feeling power influence how we play and perceive games?

When the Good Outweighs the Bad

In recent years, the Super Smash Bros. series has arisen to be a very popular competitive franchise. The most current game, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (aka Smash 4) is generally considered superior to its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but not everyone agrees. PK Blueberry, a Brawl Lucas player, contends that Lucas in Smash 4 is less satisfying to play with because the character is less pleasing to control and fight with. Brawl Lucas had a lot of tricks up his sleeve, such as “Zap Jumping”–a technique that could double Lucas’s jump height. “But wait,” others might ask. “Wasn’t Brawl the same game where Lucas would get demolished by characters like Marth, whose grab release infinite made the matchup virtually unwinnable for Lucas? Didn’t this basically sabotage Lucas’s competitive viability in a major way?”

The rebuttal is that, while that is all true, Brawl Lucas was still more satisfying to play. Praxis, the developer of the Smash Pad app, has frequently likened Brawl to a wine with a strong, unpleasant flavor but an amazing aftertaste. The idea is that, once you got past all the nonsense, the crazy things you could do in Brawl were amazing and made it more complex and satisfying. Thus, while there are a lot of ridiculously unfair things that can cripple your character, having just small moments and situations where you can feel immensely powerful is considered by some to be more valuable than just being consistently “okay” and lacking any debilitating weaknesses. Other characters fall into this category as well: players of Ganondorf and Jigglypuff (two of the weakest characters in Brawl) who made the transition to the newest game will sometimes lament the loss of certain amazing attributes or techniques, even though their power levels are closer to the rest of the cast in Smash 4.

Will Power

Another game in the franchise, the immensely popular and competitively long-lived Super Smash Bros. Melee, is one where players, when sufficiently skilled, feel like they can do anything (provided they use the best characters). For example, Fox McCloud is so versatile and powerful that some players and commentators have started using the term “Fox Privilege” to describe the range of strong options available to the game’s best character. Recently, two members of the Smash community have made efforts to describe what Melee‘s feeling of power is like relative to other games, and their descriptions work very well together.

In the video above, ESAM, a top Smash 4 player who’s also skilled in Melee, says that Melee is a game where most matchups come down to how well you can implement your character’s tools against the opponent’s, whereas Smash 4 is more about learning how to fight against characters by avoiding their strengths. In other words, Melee is how much you can do to your opponent, and Smash 4 is how much you can prevent them from doing stuff to you.

Similarly, in an an episode of The Scar & Toph Show, Melee player and commentator Scar compares Melee to Ultra Street Fighter IV, describing Melee as a game where you can easily impose your will upon the game and the opponent unless playing at the very highest level. However, Scar mentions, trying to do the same in Street Fighter is impossible, and that learning to respect the opponent’s options and play that mental game against them is a requirement for even basic competitive play. In contrast, Melee is a game where you can do decently without having to truly “think” unless you play the best of the best.

Together, ESAM and Scar paint an interesting picture of Melee as a game where the player is almost like a force of nature that can only be stopped by colliding with an even greater force. This sense of power is visually evident whenever you watch a game of Melee, and I think this goes a long way in explaining why the game has developed such a diehard fan base. When you play Melee, you enter the realm of the five gods, so to speak, or at least you end up feeling that way.

Desiring Power

In a conversation about fighting games with Dave Cabrera, creator of Kawaiikochan Gaming no Corner, he brought up the idea that while combos are often perceived as something that “top players do,” in terms of game design they offer much more to mid-level players. He quoted an interview with a game designer, who basically asked, “What’s harder to do, successfully performing a complex and intricate combo, or sweeping Daigo ten times in a row?” The latter is about the most mechanically simple thing to do in a fighting game, “down + button,” but one can only achieve it against a player of Daigo’s caliber by being similarly strong. Difficult combos, on the other hand, can grant a feeling of power to even those who lack it, because they can give a sense of accomplishment that motivates players forward. There is a more clear-cut feeling of reward. Without being able to grant power to lower-level players, they very well might stop playing at all.

Conclusion

It would be no understatement to say that Melee and Brawl are actually very different games to their competitive communities, and yet the two games share something in common, which is how they are often perceived relative to Smash 4. Again, while Smash 4 is praised by many as a superior game to Brawl, a frequent criticism of Smash 4 from players of previous games is that the characters lack “teeth.” Even if it is a more balanced game, in the Wii U iteration character power levels (and the range of options and techniques available to players through them), are unsatisfying to some players. Of course, there are plenty of players (including myself) who love the power dynamics of Smash 4, but as I hope is clear, a satisfying level of power in games is very much a personal thing.

Not every player who seeks power does so in the same way, or to the same extent as others. For certain players, power is at its best when constantly generated, especially when the opponent is of similar make. For others, memories of even the most dire of lows can be overcome with even the briefest of highs, such as when their character controls in such a way as to make them feel vibrant and overwhelming. Power can be self-centered, ignoring the opponent almost entirely. Power can be interactive and dynamic. Like water, power is a versatile “substance” that manifests as two immense waves crashing against each other, or the ebb and flow of the tides. How we gain satisfaction from power through games depends on a lot of factors, but when it is considered insufficient, even a mechanically solid game can be perceived as lacking “soul.”

NOTE: This is the second of my paid posts, where I have been asked to discuss the use of anime character mascots to promote a certain service, company, or idea. As stated in my previous entry, I have not used the products in question, and can neither endorse or turn people away from them. Rather, I am writing to go in depth on the use of anime mascots, and to help spotlight the idea of their usage in general.

11 years ago, I made my first trip to Japan to study abroad. As I walked through the downtown area of my city for the first time, I noticed a branch of Mizuho Bank, the oldest bank in Japan. However, it wasn’t anything lofty like history that made Mizuho Bank stand out to me. Rather, it was the simple fact that it shared a name with Kazami Mizuho, the teacher from Onegai Teacher.

Because I was merely an exchange student, I didn’t open up a Japanese bank account, but I know I would have entertained the notion of going with Mizuho Bank just because of that tenuous anime connection. As an aside, it’s that sort of thinking that made me realize that I was most certainly an “otaku” by even the strictest of definitions.

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Are enough people of a similar mind? Would they base their financial choices on a love of anime and its characters beyond simply spending money on merchandise? The creation of Card Loan Girls, a site dedicated to introducing different types of credit card loans in the form of anime girls, contends that this is more than a mere possibility.

While Hikkoshi More goes with a simpler and less flashy design for its mascots, Card Loan Girls is straight up “anime as hell.” The girls emphasize cute elements with character designs that wouldn’t be out of place in a light novel or visual novel, and are knee-deep in their emphasis on kyara: a focus on character design that tries to convey a sense of liveliness purely through visual presentation.

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Orix Bank’s Orihara Komugi

What’s notable about the Card Loan Girls is that they all represent real banks. From Orix (sponsor of the Orix Buffaloes baseball team) to Mobit, actual companies are behind this. Sure enough, Mizuho Bank is there too. Despite my expectations, its mascot is not an attractive teacher but instead a petite student named Kingami Eira who looks something like a cat girl or fox spirit.

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Mizuho Bank’s Kingami Eira

I believe that Eira’s design is supposed to invoke some kind of old spirit to go in line with the fact that Mizuho Bank is Japan’s oldest bank, and in that respect it certainly got my attention. I mean, I didn’t even know that factoid about Mizuho until I clicked on Eira’s profile page. There are many other bits of trivia throughout the site, and it potentially inspires people to learn about these banks in a manner similar to how Hetalia fans really delve deep into history. In many cases, these sorts of cute girls-as-things media franchises/campaigns try to incorporate and interpret as much actual detail into the characters’ designs (like larger guns equaling larger chests in Kantai Collection), but I simply don’t know enough about Japanese banks to actually figure that out.

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Mobit’s Hino Saori

As for the credit card loan information itself, Card Loan Girls doesn’t appear to be pushing any one bank over the others. Each girl is accompanied with a long list of important information, such as who can borrow and what the interest rates are. While Mobit’s Hino Saori is the most popular according to the site, I can’t say for sure why that’s the case. Are people voting for her because they think Mobit offers the best loans, or are they attracted to her tomboy design? Given the strength of anime mascot marketing in Japan, I think it’s probably more the latter, but the fact that Saori represents an online-only loan company that seems perfect for today’s modern otaku might mean it’s actually a mix of the two worlds.

I’d like to end with a couple of questions. For those living in Japan, would you pick your credit card loan based on Card Loan Girls? For those living elsewhere, what do you think of the idea of having something as far from entertainment as possible as a loan being anthropomorphized into cute young girls? Is it the kind of marketing you can get behind, or is it perhaps a step too far?

 

 

Though not always at the forefront of mainstream entertainment around the world, anime and manga have had a significant influence on a lot of artists’ and creators’ work. Some aim to create “anime” or “manga,” while others are show the impact of Japanese popular media in subtler ways, Prominent series such as Avatar: The Last Airbender and the more recent Steven Universe tend to be at the center of these discussions, and all of this leads to questions such as how one defines anime, or whether or not something “counts” as manga.

When thinking about whether or not Steven Universe or Megatokyo can be defined as anime or manga, what I find important isn’t the semantics of definition or how close to a certain truth we need to get, nor is it necessary to have to strictly categorize anime or manga. Instead, it reminds me of something that a classic anime dirctor, the late Ishiguro Noboru (Macross, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Space Battleship Yamato) had to say about what influenced his own work in Japanese animation. At Otakon 2011, Ishiguro cited as some of his influences Czech puppet shows and animator Norm McLaren, both of which are visually extremely different from Japanese animation both old and new.

While Ishiguro did not state that he was creating Japanese Czech Puppet Theater (OJP Animation instead of OEL Manga?), what I think is more important is understanding that how art influences art does not always result in something visually familiar. How it’s processed from its presentation to the creator who sees it, who then incorporates it in their own work, is unpredictable, and it might end up looking new and different. So, while Avatar: The Last Airbender looks closer to what people think of when they hear the term “anime” and Steven Universe looks a lot closer to an “American cartoon,” both are examples of series that draw influence from Japanese animation, and on some level it should be expected that there would be a transformative process when anime crosses, time, space, cultures, and different artists.

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One of the most common pieces of advice when it comes to the internet is simply, “don’t read the comments.” Whether it’s arguments about Justin Bieber on YouTube music videos or angry and insensitive comments on an article about a sensitive topic, comment sections can become minefields. It makes sense that we’re advised to ignore comment sections. However, while that’s generally sound advice, I think that it’s a mistake to believe that comment sections do not matter at all, especially in our current environment where social connections (both strong and weak) are made through online media.

Nowhere is this more relevant than with sites that utilize live chat feeds, such as Nico Nico Douga and Twitch. The difference between watching a game on Twitch with and without chat is basically the difference between watching alone or watching with a crowd. For those who want to share in the excitement of something as it happens (like a virtual crowd at a pro wrestling event), it becomes a vital part of the spectator experience. At that point, it’s not just about wanting to see comments or not, it’s about being a part of a collective bonding.

If you want to know how important the live chat is to Twitch, you only need to look at one of their more recent developments: saved chat logs for VODs. In the past, if you wanted to see what the chat was like for a previously recorded stream, your only hope was that someone captured it with the chat in progress. Now, anyone can step in a week or a month after a broadcast and see what people were saying at the time, and in many ways it enriches the experience. Imagine watching an old football game or something and having the crowd muted out. It certainly wouldn’t be the same, and while I understand that by not watching it live the experience changes anyway, there’s now a middle point.

This brings me to what I really wanted to talk about: the degree to which Twitch chat can become an unwelcoming place, and the potential harm it can cause. For me, personally, I experience this when I watch a Smash 4 tournament, and the chat is inundated with comments about how boring the game is, and how people can’t wait for Melee. It doesn’t matter how interesting the actual game being played is, people are ready to criticize and diminish its value. I think Smash 4 is awesome, and to some extent the trolls are just being trolls, but it results in an inhospitable environment that can turn away people who potentially have interest in a game. Perhaps they see huge portions of the chat calling the game a snooze fest, and think, “If this many people are saying that, maybe it is boring after all.” Or perhaps they just don’t want to deal with all of the nonsense and would prefer to watch another game with a chat that isn’t secretly hoping for the clown from Showtime at the Apollo to drag away what’s currently on.

That’s only a “your game vs. my game” scenario, though. Consider the tendency for Twitch chats to explode with comments whenever a girl appears on stream. I understand, lots of guys are horny, and by connecting to Twitch through one’s own personal devices, be they computers, mobile phones, or whatever, there’s a sense that what you’re seeing is merely an extension of your private space. Talking with your friends about how that girl was incredibly hot isn’t a bad thing, but stream and chat become this nebulous space where private and public intersect, and it’s not surprising that women would choose to hide their identities in chat, or prefer not to participate in the zoo that is Twitch chat (though that zoo can be fun and positive too).

In fact, I think comments online in general are a kind of extension of private space into public territories that can be both welcome and unwelcome. In a way, this blog is doing the same thing, as is Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else people are placing a part of themselves into their words. Social media and the internet as it exists today is not a separate entity from the real world. Ignoring elements of “IRL” space can be done too, but it usually comes with the awareness that it is cutting you off from a certain experience and resonance with others. Doing the same online might be necessary at times, but we shouldn’t act like the solution is to just encourage everyone to turn their eyes away from the problems that exist. The problems themselves need to be addressed too.

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