Self indulgence usually comes with a price. Alienating a large part of your audience is the minimum someone can expect from creating a piece of art that is about creating a piece of art. Of course, there are times when the work transcends that self indulgence. When the messages run far deeper than just what the show is about on a surface level. Sharobako has all the trappings of a self-indulgent walk though the anime industry from the perspective of people who live and work in the Anime industry. But it goes beyond that and creates a compelling narrative that anyone can enjoy. Yes, there are points in the story that are clearly fan service but the show leaves enough context clues that even uninitiated anime fans can piece together what is happening. While at the same time those who get the references enjoy the work that much more. It’s a delicate balance to maintain, but Sharobako handles it in stride.
The tone of the show is set during the very first scene. Our hero Aoi Miyamori is working late collecting key frames from the animators she has recruited to work on Exodus, which is the first original anime her company Musashino Animation has done in a long time after a recent spotty history of work. As Aoi is sitting in her car at a red light she is listening to a radio show where the hosts are discussing the current state of the Anime industry. The hosts wonder how so many shows are being made every season and conclude that they are indeed in a bubble.
The newest film from acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai, Your Name, follows two teenagers on the edge of adulthood. A boy from Tokyo, Taki, wakes up in the body of country girl Mitsuha and back in Tokyo Mitsuha has taken over the body of Taki. The changes occurs randomly and last one day, forcing the teenagers not only to deal with their own problems but also the issues of their counterpart across the country.
Shinkai enjoys taking his time in a film. He wants to give the audience a complete picture of the world, show them scenes from that world so the audience gets a vivid sense of how the character lives. In Your Name he employs this by the time he takes with each character the day of and after their first possession. But his use of photo realistic art also grounds the film in the reality of the characters and situation. Shinkai establishes time and place through the art, taking time to show elements of each character’s lives to ground them in their respective world.
We see Mitsuha’s world revealed slowly. Her relationship with her friends and their feelings towards the town, her dreams of going someplace bigger where there are cafes and good jobs. Her life as a shrine maiden, the rituals she has to perform, and the way her classmates react to the ancient display of Japanese religion and culture.
Shinkai’s world view about rural Japan and Mitsuha’s role in the world is laid bare by a story that the Shrine Priestess, Mitsuha’s grandmother, tells the young girls. At some point in the past a fire destroyed all records about the shrines role in the town. No documents of the rituals exist any longer. So while the actions of the rituals have been past down what their origin is and what they mean is lost.
This idea of meaninglessness in the rituals of the shrine is reflects how Mitsuha sees them. While she commits to them in order to make her Grandmother happy she has no interest in the shrine. She wants to leave this small town and go into the world. The small town represents a dying worldview, a place in Japan that still retains some of the isolationist mindset of the past. The people there aren’t advancing, aren’t changing with the rest of the world, the town isn’t attempting to draw young people in by changing to adapt to modern culture. It’s a dying world with people who are stuck, unmoving, as the rest of the country advances. They no longer know what their role in the world is, they just keep living the life they’ve lead for hundreds of years without thinking.
Home from Anime Boston and breathing a sigh of relief that my panels went off mostly successfully I found myself reflecting on why I do panels at Anime conventions. There are a few emotions that I had over the weekend that I’m struggling to compress before moving forward.
I enjoy doing panels but doing the same panels over and over again does start to lower the satisfaction of giving it. This was the second time doing my “When Hentai Goes Bad” panel and I presented it to a packed room of about 500 people. It was thrilling, but even though the room was bigger I didn’t get the same feeling I did when I did it the first time. My heavily modified “When Moe goes Bad” turned out to be my most satisfying panel to give because I just put a lot of work into it right before this convention.
That’s probably most of the problem. The heavy amount of work I put into “When Hentai Goes Bad” before I ran it the first time last summer probably made giving it all the more satisfying. My preparation for giving it last weekend at Anime Boston was cutting some clips and running through the notes. So ultimately I think I will always find giving new panels, or completely reworking panels, to be the most satisfying part of the work: Releasing something I worked hard on to a live audience. But at the same time I wonder how I can get that satisfaction more often. I’ve considering making more YouTube videos, going back to writing regularly, and getting out and taking more photos as key creative outlets. But I don’t do any of them enough. I want to chase the high I feel when giving a brand new panel. I just need to create more things more often.
I will continue to give panels at conventions because of the creative satisfaction it gives me to create a presentation and then immediately get a live reaction. But I need to think of new ways to channel that desire and to create more often. After all, just doing two or three conventions a year is far from enough.
Some advice I can offer to new panelists or people wanting to start:
Nothing is Ever Perfect
What prevents me from blogging a lot is that I keep going over a piece that I’ve written until I’m satisfied. This forces me into a kind of paralysis and delays posting completed works for weeks at a time.
This isn’t limited to writing either. I find myself doing it with videos and photos that I finish editing, then let sit without doing anything with because something in me wants to keep working on it. I’ve forced myself to post things more often and to quiet that voice, but sometimes it’s overwhelming.
The thing about panels is that there is a hard deadline: The day of the event. And the act of presenting the panel is an act of creation in the moment. Once a sentence leave your mouth, it’s delivered to the audience and can never be taken back and re-edited. As a creator it’s a refreshing exercise.
That doesn’t prevent me from analyzing the situation afterwards which can still create anxiety. But the creative piece is done.
Yuri on ice was an immediate hit last season for a lot of good reasons. The characters were empathic and well thought out, the ice skating animation was gorgeous, and hints at a homosexual relationship in an otherwise standard sports anime lit a fire inside fans eager to see that narrative played in something that wasn’t pornography or boys love. But Yuri on Ice goes beyond just a normal love story between two men. It’s about people passionate about the sport they have decided to dedicate every waking moment of their lives too.
The core of what Yuri on Ice is about can be seen in the very first episode, the catalyst of the story where Victor decides to drop everything and go to Japan to train Yuri. Yuri has been studying Victor for years, attempting to follow in his footsteps. He has followed his career and even got the same type of dog as Victor. Yuri very much has built his career as a figure skater, his entire life, after Victor.
When Victor saw Yuri skating he wasn’t just watching another skating copying one of his routines. He was watching someone who had studied that routine with passion and who was recreating it out of pure love for the art form and for the person who had developed it: Victor. Up to that point Yuri was a talented skater but he lacked a goal, he lacked passion. Yet when he wasn’t competing, when he performed alone for his friends on that ice rink he preformed a master level routine with elegance and style.
I started my Anime blog in 2010 for a couple reasons. I had run a few blogs over the last couple years but I wanted to focus on write longer pieces and try to build an audience around it. I choose anime because that was one of my consistent hobbies for ten years previously. I set up the website, I looked for people on twitter to follow, and I made a big deal about entering the aniblogging space.
Otaku in review was never a huge success but I got reactions from the right people. People I respected in the anime community came out and complimented my work. I became a known quantity in the space. I started to collaborate with some of the biggest names in Anime blogging. I mark the work I did at the time as the highlight of my professional career, despite never earning a dime from any of it. I cherish every single episode of the podcast and every single blog post I ever wrote. Then I stopped. One day I just said that it was enough. I put everything on the shelf and I walked away.
There are many reasons why I walked away. Most don’t have to do with any negative experience that I had. Simply put, I was completely burnt out on anime. At the time new anime had entered a dry period after an extreme high point. I was getting tired of just writing and talking about anime. As I started to feel burned out I started to spend time on other hobbies, such as American cartoons and comics. I didn’t feel like I could write about those things on the site I created. Finally, I wanted more free time because my job took up a lot of time and energy. I wanted to enjoy my hobbies without having to critique them.
Mobile Suit Gundam and its tie in line of model kits have always marched in lockstep. If the anime gets a cool new giant robot it wasn’t long before you were able to buy a kit and build the model of it. At this point Gundam has been around so long that the models, now being sold under the unified “Gunpla” brand, have taken on a fandom all their own independent from the anime franchise. Gundam Build Fighters is a transparent method to get kids and fans of Gundam anime into the culture of Gunpla and it certainly worked on me: after watching build fighters I’ve spent almost $300 on Gunpla.”
In the world of Gundam Build Fighters a new technology was created that reacts with the plastic in Gunpla and enables a person to control their plastic model with holographic controls. The Plavsky particle changes a flat service into one of a number of battlefields and gives power to the Gunpla’s weapons and propulsion systems. So when the Gunpla battle is occurring it’s no different from when mobile suits fight in the regular show… except in Build Fighters they are made of plastic and four inches tall. These particles have real effect on the world and Gunpla that loses in battle are physically destroyed.
The main protagonist is Sei Iori whose father took second place in the Gunpla Battle world championship five years earlier. Sei is an expert model builder but is horrible at battling. This is illustrated in the first episode when a punk kid who brings his own poorly made model into Sei’s store and is able to defeat Sei’s custom, beautifully built Strike Gundam. The kid wants to fight for Sei in the upcoming world tournament but Sei doesn’t believe that he will treat his Gunpla with enough respect. So there comes on final challenge, if Sei loses to, he has to let him fight for him in the tournament.
Honestly, when I started my anime blog and podcast in 2010 I really didn’t know what to expect. I thought I would write about Cartoons, then talk about them on the Podcast. I figured people who liked anime would listen, everyone would get along great. It was extremely quickly that I realized that it wasn’t that simple.
There is an underlying problem in anime fandom: There is so much anime. I’ve written about this a hundred times but I keep coming back to it because it remains a barrier to new fans who attempt to come into the medium. Fans looking for an action show, they get turned off by the fans who watch high school romances. Fans of high school romances quickly get turned off by the people who are obsessed with science fiction. The fans who skirt the line and try to be “anime fans,” fans of the medium at large, are few and far between. I remain one of those fans, I simply watch the things that look interesting to me. I go from Kill la Kill, to Cowboy Bebop, and back to Toradora. I did not expect the in fighting and drama that followed.
The biggest was the complete paranoia of Moe fans who, at the time, were just coming up as the most vocal group in the fandom and many of them fight attacked from anime fans who didn’t like little girl cartoons. There were thousands of words written about how Anime News Network was a biased cesspool that wanted to destroy Moe because they prefer other shows.