Vistas: Streaming for Profit – Crunchyroll vs.

I’ve got a new post over at the Vistas blog, this time about the differences in paid services provided by two different streaming sites with two different ideas of what its users should pay for, Crunchyroll and Feel free to comment either there or right here on Ogiue Maniax.

Shounen Opening Pattern

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

Left-Handed Basis for Purchase of Anime Goods

For many anime companies in the US, the million dollar question is, “Why are so many fans willing to spend so much money on anime-related merchandise but not anime itself?”

One avenue of thought says that because a lot of people download these shows or obtain them for free and do so for so long, a lot of them simply take having free shows for granted. Figures and posters and such, however, cannot be obtained for no money. But I think this is looking at things on too narrow a level. I believe there’s something that manifests itself in different ways according to different types of fans, from moe fans to Naruto devotees to mech heads.

I think there’s a strong desire to get closer to the characters and the world of the anime, beyond what an anime shows. Even if it’s not real, we want to get as close to real as possible. By buying that left-handed bass, a person can feel like they have a bond with Akiyama Mio. By buying that Temari fanart at a convention, a person can affirm their fondness for the sand kunoichi, and in a much more direct and efficient way than simply buying the Naruto anime (which as a whole has like, 2% Temari content tops). By buying that Master Grade Qubeley MK II, a person can bring the fantastic realism of a mobile suit into the actual reality of their home, with the tactile nature of model kit building also contributing.

For the most part, anime fans definitely enjoy the anime they watch, but the anime itself remains in its own world behind the TV screen or computer monitor. Fans want to pull that world past the 4th wall and engage it more directly. But it’s impossible to make the world of anime our own, so the best we can do is buy tangible products that let us get as close as possible.

Home Made Kazoku Rap-Sings Their Way to Otakon

Otakon 2010 fires its first major volley with “Home Made Kazoku” as their Sunday musical guest.

Realistically speaking, this is pretty much the kind of musical guest I want at conventions more often. While I know that they’re not a J-ROCK BAND and thus won’t have quite as much clout among those who go to anime conventions mainly for the concerts, Home Made Kazoku’s a legitimate act that’s actually done music for popular anime. I mean, you couldn’t exactly call Naruto or Bleach small-fry cartoons (aside from literally being for children), and they also did “Shounen Heart,” the love-it-or-hate-it second opening of Eureka Seven.

I still consider it a crime that JAM Project got only a fraction of the audience of other musical guests at Otakon 2008, especially when they had Kageyama “Chala Head Chala” Hironobu, a guy whose songs almost every person at an anime con knows at least one of. While I get the appeal of the J-Rock band, I wouldn’t mind them nearly as much if more of them had actually sung something related to anime, or if they weren’t being sold mainly on image. Hell, a COVER of an anime song would be acceptable.

So, Home Made Kazoku. I can’t wait to see everyone at the concert try (and fail) to sing along to the rap portions.

That includes myself.

It’s hard!

Female Characters in Shounen Fighting Series and the Meaning of “Strength”

Sometimes when discussing shounen fighting series, there are disagreements among fans as to what female characters are considered “strong” and which are considered “weak.” Someone will accuse one female character of being “useless,” while another will point out all that she’s done to help the good guys, and that she’s strong in her own way. While opinions may be opinions, I think that the nature of shounen fighting series makes it difficult for those types of characters.

Hokuto no Ken is a classic example of a series with female characters who are “strong-but-not-really.” Mamiya is a skilled fighter and trains hard to keep up in a world of mutant thugs armed with only a crossbow and some yo-yo’s, but she’s still a few tiers below Kenshiro and Friends. Yuria has great will and even greater compassion, but she’s not a fighter at all, and in this series, as strong as Kenshiro’s own compassion is, fist to face action is at the forefront.

And as much as I like Hyuuga Hinata from Naruto, and as much as I think she is an excellent character, I know that she is not meant to be one of those female characters who is actually able to keep up with the guys when the chips are down. And in fact, as far as I can tell, despite the fact that Naruto is full of skilled kunoichi, there are only two or three female characters in that series who can actually fight on an even keel with the guys: Tsunade, Temari, and maybe Kurenai. Sakura definitely had the potential, and was supposed to end up as being super strong and super determined, but she too has fallen victim to the Shounen Side Heroine Syndrome.

But being physically weaker or lacking in skills compared to the main hero and the guys doesn’t mean a female character will necessarily be “weak.” Nami and Nico Robin from One Piece are both excellent examples of characters who carry their own weight. And even before Nami gets the Clima-Tact and starts participating in battles, her skills are shown to be indispensable to the team. Another good example of a female character who uses the skills that she has and contributes immensely to the overall cause is Tokine from Kekkaishi. Tokine, while not capable of as much sheer “brute strength” as her male counterpart Yoshimori, is able to use her finesse to not only match him but often outperform him.

“But wait, weren’t you the one who talked about how great it is when characters accomplish things at their own pace? Isn’t that one of the great appeals of moe? And aren’t you a supporter of moe?” And you would be right on that, but again I must say that it has to do with the fact that shounen fighting series inevitably revolve around fighting or at the very least getting characters to a point at which they can fight. Basically, the moe series will define strength within the context of their series as overcoming a small adversity which is difficult for them in particular, while a shounen fighting series is all about displays of strength, even if they are fueled by friendship and honor.

The big, essential difference between the Sakura/Mamiya group and the Nami/Tokine group is “results.” Both groups of female characters might not have as much raw skill or ability or training or whatever as the guys do, but one of those groups gets things done. Nami and Tokine don’t just contribute to the overall goal by doing something like blocking the villain’s attack just that one vital moment so that the hero can get in the final shot, but instead actually accomplish significant goals, things that can move the story along. It’s not even that they simply defeat opponents that the others cannot, but that they will do what it takes to win.

This doesn’t even necessarily apply to female characters. All you need to to do is take a look at Usopp from One Piece as a good example of a character who fights with what he has. It’s just that this is often the situation in which female characters find themselves, and often it’s done so that the guys can come in and go, “Stand aside, ladies. It’s MAN TIME.”

…Which is not necessarily a bad thing either, as having the men be strongest in a series for boys makes all sorts of sense. It’s just that if someone’s looking for female characters who really pull their weight to accomplish an overall goal, they may end up disappointed as a result. Though not a shounen fighting series, Legend of the Galactic Heroes can often seem like a sausage fest despite a plethora of genuinely well-written, strong, and clever female characters because of the fact that none of them are out there commanding ships and fleets, i.e. the very activity that is at the absolute forefront of LoGH.

Again, I like a lot of female characters who might not be the best or the strongest but try their best to do what they can even if they can’t keep up with the boys, characters who do things their own way at their own pace. However, even if a series actually says explicity, “This girl is truly strong because she really tried and her help, however small, was essential for victory,” within the context of shounen fighting “strength” is more defined by the overall setup and themes of the story, and rarely is any amount of lip-service enough to make the readers truly think otherwise.

“I Follow It for the Side Characters.”

Years ago when I was more active in the Pokemon fan community, I noticed that there were quite a few people who loved Team Rocket. To them, Jessie and James were the highlight of every episode and every movie, and they generally only begrudgingly accepted Ash Ketchum on their televisions. “If only the show starred Team Rocket, then it would truly be great!” they’d say, or alternately, “The only reason I even watch Pokemon is for Team Rocket!” This wasn’t the first time I saw a show’s fanbase rally behind its supporting cast instead of its primary heroes, but it’s the most prominent example I can think of and one that seems to set the pace for other similar instances.

From what I can tell, most of the time the idea of following a series for the side characters happens primarily with people who love the setting of a show but for one reason or another cannot get behind its main protagonist. Most often, I see this happen with shounen series when the fans are not that young boy demographic that can most easily put themselves into the hero’s shoes. Uzumaki Naruto, for instance, is considered by some portions of the Naruto fanbase as being loud and annoying and difficult to relate to (or perhaps his detractors are unwilling to try and relate to him in the first place), and thus turn their attentions towards Kakashi or Rock Lee or whomever. And before you think I’m criticizing people for doing this, keep in mind that while I like Naruto as a character, my favorite character in Naruto is Hyuuga Hinata by an unbelievable margin, and she barely appears in the series overall.

What fascinates me about this whole matter is that prioritizing supporting characters in such a way can empower fans and their creativity. By following a series through its side characters, it’s like fans are saying that they are going to read and interpret the story their own way, that to some degree they know what’s better for the story than the original author, but that they also totally respect the author for giving them their favorite characters. It’s like fans have arrived at postmodernism without even knowing what that word means.

2000-2009 Part 2: Looking Forward

Make Way for the New Generations


Anime and manga continue to change and develop, becoming at times almost unrecognizable from what they once were in the past. Having first taken a broad (but also detailed) look at the significant parts of the decade of anime and manga from 2000-2009, I think it is only appropriate that we also look ahead. As such, I have written out a number of topics pertaining to where I think anime and manga will go in the coming years. They’re half-predictions, half-observations, and all things that I think people should watch out for.

The First Digital Generation

In the previous part, I discussed how the advent of digital animation is one of the biggest markers of the current decade of anime and that anime is affected by this switch. One vital point to consider is the likelihood of a generational shift. In about 20 years or so we are going to see an entire generation of adults in Japan (and around the world) who have grown up primarily on digital animation. When you consider the level to which nearly all people in and out of the industry still look fondly back towards the anime of their youth (or from the time they discovered anime), the style that has begun to grow out of digital animation is likely going to have a profound impact on where anime goes, especially as that first digital generation grows older and the cel generations die off.

Over time, I think that the peculiarities of digital animation, such as the computer-based shortcuts, will become part of the style itself, but less direct about it than, say, Studio SHAFT’s current output, and not necessarily influenced by Shinbo’s work either. But if there are any, they will be making in-jokes and references about the early, nostalgic days of digital animation and not light boxes and such.

SHAFT’s Bakemonogatari is a hint of where anime may go in 20 years.

For better or worse, as a new range of ideas and techniques emerge, parts of animation technique and philosophy born out of cel-based anime will fade away, perhaps forever. After all, Miyazaki can’t live forever.

Flash Animation

In this decade the US animation industry has embraced Flash Animation as a way to reduce cost, particularly by eliminating the need for animation teams in South Korea and other places to do everything for you, as well as being able to create works domestically without incurring the exorbitant costs required to animate things traditionally in the US. The results have been mixed, as Flash as a program lends itself to “flat” animation.

In light of the anime industry’s history of low budgets, I think that more companies, be they animation studios, broadcasters, or otherwise, will start to look at Flash as a viable method to keep things low-cost and at-home. Now I don’t think it will eliminate today’s more “traditional” animation, especially when it comes to bigger-name, bigger-budget works, but it will be an appealing tool for those middle-of-the-road shows, and shows for kids. We’re already kind of seeing it with something like Shugo Chara Party!, where one of the segments feels very much like a flash animation.

There are two key points here. First, is that I do not think, if Japan starts to use Flash more regularly, that they will utilize the same methods the US does, particularly because US animation is generally characterized by lots of movement and Japanese animation is not. Also, I think that animators will be trying to apply their existing principles to flash, rather than trying to master the “science” of it. Second, this will create another bridge between the industry and the internet, where flash animations come out of 2channel periodically and some achieve terrific success. The main challenge from there will be pushing the limits of flash animation in terms of how successfully the visuals can be used to convey a story, as well as the breadth and depth of the subjects explored.

“How effectively can stories be told in this format?”

Changing Views on Hikikomori and NEETs

The chronic shut-in known as the “hikikomori” is a topic that Japan for the past decade has been in debate over, and as with the “NEETs” and the “Freeters” and so on, the focus has been on the future and fate of Japan, especially when factoring in the shrinking Japanese population and the fear that arises from that scenario. “Why aren’t these people going out and making something of themselves? Why aren’t they growing up?” Essays and news reports and even anime, manga, and light novels have been made of the topic, with Welcome to the NHK providing prominent examples of the last three.

But the reality of the economy is such that not having a good job (or a job at all), living at home, and having your parents’ support will be an increasingly common sight. Some will become hikikomori and try to close themselves off from the world, but there may be a sizable group that is only partially hikikomori, who will not completely lose their ability to interact with others or to engage in meaningful activity, and they will have a cultural and social “pulling” effect on the full-blown hikikomori. In turn, those “full hikikomori” may drag some down with them.

Writings on hikikomori will evolve.

The result may be that Japan’s view on the hikikomori and the NEET, especially in the face of having these groups increase in size, will be a mixture of greater panic and greater relief as they will fret once again that this is potentially very dangerous for Japan, while the internet will provide this larger hikikomori population with the group setting in line with Japanese ideas of “group,” where the interactions between partial hikikomori and full hikikomori will take place.

Thematic Responses to the Economy

The anime industry, much like every other industry, is feeling the sting of the poor economy but also has the sting of disappointment and high expectations from the US and other markets. The result is that production of anime is feeling the squeeze, with reduced budget and staff and less wiggle room for creativity. All in all, anime is being affected on a technical level by the world economy. In a certain sense however, this is only the beginning.

In about three to five years, I predict that we will begin to see both anime and manga which address the idea of global recession itself and incorporate it into the themes and settings in these works, to have it become a concept that is to be explored, whether directly or indirectly. Evangelion and other shows were responses to the recession that befell Japan starting in the early 90s, and I don’t think it would be unusual for an international economic downturn to have a similar effect.

Money will matter on more than a practical level.

Some works will be more explicit about the topic, and probably mention governments and businessmen who played roulette with the world’s economy, or businesses which had too much hubris, while others will be Silent Service-style “what ifs” but for the economy. There will also be shows which are more subtle about these elements or will have them as part of the background.

The New Escapes

Fiction, even realistic fiction, is often an escape, and over the course of anime and manga’s histories we have seen the idea of the “escape” take on many forms. More recently, escape has been manifested through the idea of “moe” and all that it entails. Moe however, like every other genre of anime, cannot last at the forefront forever, and in time new escapes will appear. Some of them may resemble older trends, but they will all ultimately still be ways to not approach reality head-on.

There are two basic forms to “escapism.” The first is a type of introverted escapism, that is, to become increasingly insular. The second is an extroverted escapism, where you want to project outwards, to go beyond yourself. Almost all genres have both to some extent in different ratios. Moe for example is very insular in the sense that it seems to want to keep characters and emotions isolated in time, but is also somewhat extroverted in that these shows are generally trying to portray the strong emotions of other characters and the ideal of being able to see these qualities at the forefront.

In that sense, I think that in the near future the escapism for anime and manga will be increasingly introverted, but will soon give way to a more extroverted form as a response to the desires of more and more fans who want to be released into other worlds. Though I don’t think that anime and manga will be reaching that early period where stories tended to feel very “epic,” I think we will see a lot of stories about worlds with wide scope focused through the lens of personal characterization, and in a way in which the former affects the latter significantly and vice versa.

Many series will try to balance daily life with a greater world.

Increased International Integration in Collaborative Efforts

Like all companies, manga publishers want to increase profit every year, and at some point a decade or three ago, Japan began to realize that one direction they had not gone was to appeal to people outside of their fanbase and readership. The classic example at this point is Shounen Jump, which noticed that it had developed a sizable female audience, and so made the move to start releasing series that are designed for female readers (without driving the boys away, of course). The result is Jump‘s approximately 50% female readership.

But then I recalled something Ed Chavez, currently of Vertical Inc. and formally of Kodansha, has said on multiple occasions: The “problem” with the Japanese manga industry today is that it has no room to grow in the nation itself. For all intents and purposes, the Japanese market has been saturated, as manga selling a million copies is completely normal and the fact that there’s pretty much something for everyone.

The only way to go then is outside of Japan, but the problem facing the industry there is that it’s difficult to pinpoint the manga-reading audience for different cultures and nationalities around the world. The same thing applies to the anime industry, which has been trying to really grow outwards for a while but lost its footing along the way. The tricky part in all this is that anime and manga have to achieve a certain level of distinctness, but still have to be familiar enough that people are comfortable with the material, and this is something that is even more of a challenge to achieve when the people making the work are unfamiliar with the culture they’re trying to attract. Naruto, Bleach, and Dragon Ball Z are pretty much the most popular things out there for boys in the US, and when you think about it they’re not that different from American superheroes.

This is why I predict that over the next decade and beyond, we will be seeing collaborations on animation and comics where the staff producing these works will be much more closely integrated. International collaboration isn’t new to manga and especially not to anime, but the work is usually cleanly divided between the countries involved. So it’ll be less Gurihiru drawing for Marvel’s Power Pack and more Oban Star Racers. This way they have a better chance of hitting that cultural sweet spot, though nothing is guaranteed and there’s going to be some serious misses as a result of trying to mix two cultures together at the base level of production.

French and Japanese Collaboration Oban Star Racers

Incidentally, by necessity translators will have to be more closely involved in the process as well.

Age Demographics in Japan vs Age Demographics Abroad

Anime and manga in the US has had a contradictory reputation for the longest time, being viewed both as “cartoons for children” and “raunchy pornography.” These days however, if we were to look at the fandom we would know the truth: In the US, anime and manga are primarily for teenagers with both childish and adult elements in different proportions, and it’s been this way for a number of years now. One concern I’ve seen from people is that they fear that a lot of these works, particularly in manga, will never get brought over here because they will simply never have an audience. And to an extent they’re right, but I believe that in time the manga audience in the US will slowly mature and eventually reach a point where they want something that is more in-line with how they feel about entertainment, their lives, and the world at large.

The key however will be whether or not Japan realizes that age demographics do not map one-to-one between Japan and the US. Not all “seinen” works will appeal to an older audience, and they will have to somehow find a way to understand just what this slightly more matured manga-seeking audience is looking for, possibly through the greater international collaboration I mentioned earlier.

Seinen may become more “shounen-friendly.”

Josei in Japan went through a similar growing pain in that it tried to be more “adult” in certain ways until creators and editors realized that older women still want the shoujo series trappings of their youth, but with more mature concerns and characterizations. In time, I think Japan and the US will get a better handle on it, but it won’t come without some serious bumps in the road capable of taking a company or three under.

Multimedia Customization

When it comes to streaming anime, you can’t please everyone, and methods of distribution and how to turn those view counts into sales is a mystery which eludes even big sites like Hulu, let alone smaller players like Funimation or Crunchyroll. While streaming anime is a step in the right direction, anime finds itself to some extent in the same bind as scanlations: sometimes people want to actually own a hard copy for themselves. However, the cost of printing DVDs for a series that won’t sell can be prohibitively expensive, meaning even if you really like Saki, unless someone decides to pick up the license to produce a box set you’re not going to have it sitting pretty on your bookshelf.

People outside of Japan will be able to own Saki however they want.

I think that starting in the next few years this is all going to start changing until we reach a point of personal customization in our anime and manga: You will be able to make exactly the purchase you want with exactly the things that you want, on-demand. As an example, let’s say it’s 2015 and you’re watching a streaming video of the latest series New Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Second Generation. Sadly the show has no box set you can buy in stores, but you still really want to own it. What you’ll be able to do is specify just how you want to have it in your possession, and you will get that package. Do you want it on blu-ray or DVD? Do you want to shove all the episodes onto fewer discs, cutting out the extras and possibility some of the quality? Do you want to just download the episodes so you can watch them without relying on internet access? Do you want to also purchase merchandise for Neo-Japan’s “Typhoon Gundam?” You will be able to get what you want, weighing cost versus extras, and in a way that doesn’t just limit you to “Normal,” “Super Deluxe,” and “Bare Bones” packs.

Choice is the future.

New Paths for New Talent to Appear

Shinkai Makoto made a big splash on the anime industry when he released Voices of a Distant Star, a science fiction-themed OVA which he wrote, directed, and animated all by himself on his Macintosh back in 2002. More recently, Aniplex has introduced the world to Cencoroll, by another independent writer/director/animator named Uki Atsuya. The idea of the Anime Renaissance Man is appealing, but it’s something that people cannot expect all the time. Skilled creators can be born independently, but it’s clear from Shinkai’s example that, given proper resources and experience, even a genius has room to improve.

Works like Cencoroll will continue to be rare, but lessons can be learned.

I think anime is heading in a direction where people won’t have to be skilled at every aspect of animation production to be considered a Big Deal. One possibiliy I’ve thought of is “anime festivals” for amateur creators, be they industry-sponsored or independent, with competitions and awards for categories such as storyboarding and writing in addition to full-on animations. More importantly however, these anime festivals could take place entirely online.

The primary advantage of having festivals be online would be low overhead costs, and in this age of streaming video (which will only get more efficient over time) people will be able to see each others’ works and comment on them, possibly through chat rooms or Nico-style scrolling text. This will also encourage people to send in works from abroad, as they would be on an equal footing of sorts with those living in Japan, and would be able to enjoy seeing the results all the same. Of course this is not to say that online animation festivals would replace actual ones, but the ease of setting one up would make it an attractive prospect, and it would give amateurs opportunities to be noticed.

Manga too will start to have online festivals. There is already the International Manga Competition, but these will be a little more like Comic Market on the Internet, and will have a lot less pornography. The same idea applies however, in that people will be able to enter in a variety of categories and not just “Overall Excellent Manga Creator.” It’s not so much specialization as it is realizing again that not everyone talented is multi-talented.


Although I have written all of these ideas of the future of anime and manga, I of course do not pretend to be a soothsayer and cannot guarantee that any of my predictions will come true. I’ve always been better at observing the past than predicting the future, and I know my views on anime and manga are tinged by a certain degree of optimism, so in time we will all see  just what I was able to sense correctly and what was just my wishful thinking.

Still, I think that even if I get everything concrete wrong, every single item I’ve written about is something to consider and analyze further as anime and manga reach into the next decade.The main themes I’ve discussed are the ways in which the industry and the fans will handle the significant changes to the economy that have occurred, shifts in philosophy on the creation of anime itself, and new steps towards customizing and tailoring for audiences. Taken all together along with the advancement of technology in society, and even if I’m wrong I think that my ideas all have more than a few kernels of relevance to them.

So let’s approach 2010 with open arms, not so much to simply accept whatever anime and manga may come, but to give the same consideration of the past that we do the future, and to know that no matter how it might change they are still capable of inspiring.

La Sommelière and Naruto Crossover?!

Scott Green of AICN Anime posted on his twitter account an image of Uzumaki Naruto with apprentice wine specialist Itsuki Kana from my favorite wine manga La Sommelière (not that I’ve really read any others). The image is done by the artist Matsui Katsunori, and is in celebration of Naruto‘s 10th Anniversary.

Now this is a crossover I can get behind. I bet much like Wolverine, Naruto can take a lot of alcohol due to having an unusually powerful self-healing ability.

If you want more information on the series, I’ve previously reviewed the first three volumes of La Sommelière.

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

I’ve most recently picked up Volume 11, though truth be told I haven’t really been reviewing later volumes as once you get the sense of the first two or three you’ll definitely be able to tell if you’ll like it. Later volumes introduce some new characters and still have the same fantastic wine stories, but somewhat like Golgo 13 once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.

And if you don’t know Naruto, well, I’m sure someone on the internet will tell you very quickly.

La Sommelière


There’s some spoilers here, so I recommend those of you with an investment in Naruto and don’t want to ruin your experience turn around immediately.

Continue reading

Inconsistency in Iconographic Character Design and the Aging Audience Mind

It was winter, around New Year’s one year when the Naruto anime in Japan aired an episode that acted as a set up to the long-anticipated Sasuke vs Gaara fight in the Chuunin exams. During this episode the characters were all terribly off-model, and not just for a few frames as the internet so likes to point out, but throughout the entire show. Taking a gander at the ending credits, it was very clear that this was some animation studio’s E team working on it. It was New Year’s after all and the New Year is a big deal in both Japan and Korea.

As a college-age student, I was not the primary audience for Naruto, as much as all college-age fans of Naruto might like to believe. Now, thinking back to my own childhood and knowing some of the things I’ve learned about animation, I have to wonder if I would have been so keen to pick up on inconsistency in character design, and if it would have mattered to me at all.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to watch many episodes of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, the one that began in the 80s and ran for close to a decade, and it was then that I realized that for the Shredder, nothing was ever actually consistent. There was the helmet, the claws, the cape, the overall outfit, but from one shot to the next the thickness and curvature of the helmet would change, the arm guards would just do whatever, and it looked like each scene was drawn by a different person. And they probably were! But I didn’t really notice, or at least not that I can recall. I remember sometimes the Shredder looking more awesome than other times, but that’s about it.

World Events licensed the Japanese robot anime King of Beasts Golion and Space Musketeer Bismarck, and transformed them into Voltron: Defender of the Universe and Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs respectively. Both shows were popular enough with kids that they ended up creating extra episodes from scratch. Without the guiding hand of the original Japanese companies though, the shows just did not end up looking the same.

If you look at a lot of cartoons animated in Japan in the 80s for American audiences, such as Bionic Six or Galaxy Rangers, many of the openings are much more visually impressive than the actual episodes. Of course, openings being superior in quality to the show they precede should not be unfamiliar territory to anime fans.

Decades before Voltron and Bionic Six, the anime 8-Man was brought to America as 8th Man. At Otakon 2008, Mike Toole in his panel “Dubs That Time Forgot” pointed out that in the custom American intro for 8th Man, the character design used for the titular character didn’t even resemble the original Japanese design beyond a basic level.

Now, I watched both Voltron and Saber Rider as a kid but as I was very young at the time I barely remember anything about them, aside from the fact that smaller robots combining into a single mighty robot was the best idea ever (see also: Transformers, Gobots). Did I catch any of these extra episodes? I really don’t know. As for 8th Man, I wasn’t even born yet. But somehow I don’t think most kids were angry that the show tried to trick them into believing two different designs were the same character.

Kids need only a few iconic things to identify the character. With Shredder, it’s a mean-looking metal helmet ninja guy (something you can also see in the more recent TV series). With Voltron, it’s some people in color-coded outfits and a robot with lion heads for limbs and a sword that blazes. With 8th Man it’s a giant 8 on his chest.

I’m not asking whether companies right or wrong to rely on these aspects and hoping kids wouldn’t notice the difference, or whether or not they insult children’s intelligence by doing so. And I am not defending inconsistency in animation or saying that it is totally okay to just forget what your own characters look like. At the end of the day, Yashigani doesn’t help anyone, and there are times when characters are so off-model that they break even the important iconic features of a character. What I am asking instead is, what is and should be prioritized when it comes to presenting a character to children? And then, how does this affect media for older people that grows out of these preconceptions?

American superhero comics were once the domain of children, and it’s there that you see the strength of symbols and in characters. An S on the chest, a blue outfit with red cape, and a confident stance, and you’ve got Superman. Individual artist differences don’t matter as much as getting the basics of Kal-El down. But then over the years superhero comics became more and more geared towards adult readers, as they are today. Since then, the practice of having different artists and writers on the same character has become a staple of the genre, but now with this older readership this practice is celebrated. It is touted as one of the unique features of comics, where for better or for worse an Alan Moore Swamp Thing-level revamp can be conceived and then taken away months later, but with the record that the same character has many different approaches both in terms of story and subtle visual changes.

And now we have anime which, like comics, started off in the realm of children and grew to encompass adults, adults who were once those very same children. And then when watching anime for at least a certain subset of adults (otaku) became more commonplace, anime started gearing towards them to a certain degree, and with every passing year we see more of this. Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics talks about how he considers of the great strengths of manga to be its use of characters as iconography, which I’m extending towards anime as well. But how has icon usage in character design changed if at all in this journey towards adulthood?  One of the long-standing strengths of anime I feel is the way in which it provides material for adults to enjoy even within children’s shows. Is more consciously consistent (or intentionally inconsistent) character design a higher necessity when the target audience is older? Is an older audience what’s needed to truly appreciate a Shinbo-style unorthodox approach to a show? These questions don’t necessarily need answering, but I feel they may lead to finding out parts of the truth about how anime and its audience interact.