Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory comes about nine years too late. That isn’t to say the story isn’t compelling and that I don’t appreciate them finally picking up exactly where it left off. There is a lot of like about the new chapter of Full Metal Panic, especially as they detach from the formula established in the original and Segura goes off on his own. I’m thrilled that the show exists but I can’t help but wonder why it exists. The last Full Metal Panic! anime came out in 2005 and while there have been a steady stream of light novels and manga released in Japan the anime has all but fallen out of the mind of the American anime fan. Sitting here in the year 2018 where memes are passed around that claim “Kill la Kill” is old school, I find it hard to believe that fans younger than thirty are going to care about an anime that came out in 2002. So how large of an audience can the new Full Metal Panic have? At the time of posting Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory is sitting at about 54th on the Crunchyroll popularity ranking.
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.
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.
Anime conventions carry almost the opposite culture of a Megacon like PAX East, and Anime Boston is one of the best examples of the perfect fan convention. Yes, there are big anime companies who take up a large amount of space in the dealers room and have some of the largest panels at the convention, but the control and presence of those companies is easily drowned out by fan and convention culture. Anime Boston is purely a fan convention. The majority of the programing is created by fans, the tone is dictated by the fans, and the atmosphere is generated by the attendees absolute love and passion for their hobbies.
Anime conventions stopped being about anime a long time ago and I’ve written about fan convergence and sat on panels discussing it. Anime Boston still has mostly anime programing, a mostly anime themed dealers room, and it does of good job of maintaining the theme of the convention. But, being a fan run convention, looking around at what the fans are cosplaying and listen to what they are talking about is where the true culture of the convention arises. The dealers room features a ton of anime themed art but sitting along side it are League of Legends prints, Steven Universe, American comics, and a ton of other representations of pop culture. You can see the same mix of interests among cosplayers, and even in the dealers room. The majority of the sales space is dedicated to Anime merchandise but scattered among the booths are Video Game and US Comics toys and collectables, board games, art supplies, and a booth giving out samples of Mountain Dew’s newest beverages . Anime Boston’s dealers room space is so big and the taste of their attendees so diverse that you can turn one corner and be surrounded by Anime plushes and turn another and feel like you are in an entirely different place. It’s the greatest nerd flee market in the world, second only to Otakon.
We currently live in a world where Nerd culture has become pop culture. Fans who have used their love of Marvel comics as an identity for all their lives suddenly find themselves surrounded by millions of fans. Millions of dollars are being thrown into marketing to make sure everyone knows who the Guardians of the Galaxy are. So much of the comic con culture is dominated by who owns the biggest booth, who has the best celebrities show up, and who spends the most money. An anime convention is a place where people can celebrate whatever they wish. They don’t have to be steered in one direction or be drummed up by sales people to overhype the next blockbuster film. The fan convention is something alien to the normal public. It’s where the hardcore fans, the people who can still be classified as nerds for liking nerd things because of how much time and energy they put into it, can express themselves and be celebrated for that expression no matter how obscure. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing to be a part of.
But the show is still about anime. There are critics who point out that while anime conventions are attended well most of the fans there consider anime a secondary hobby to something else. Be it gaming, or Marvel movies, or a hundred different things: that is where the feeling of the fan convention truly takes over and develops. Anime in the title gets people in the door, once the fans are inside it’s up to the individual how they wish to express themselves. Anime is a weird beast that way because of how diverse the content actually is. It draws people who have wildly different interests together under the same banner.
The feeling of Anime Boston can be summed up by the Jojo’s Bizarre adventure panel that I attended. The panel wasn’t very good, it was a half hour of basic information on the show that I could have gotten from Wikipedia and the second half of it was calling fans onto the stage to make silly poses. However, the majority of the attendees loved it; shouting along and cheering. They most likely knew all the information being presented, yet they still cheered: Because someone was talking about Jojo’s. That’s really all it takes for anime fans to feel like they belong. Anime fans so rarely can connect with people about their hobbies that to see a few hundred people sharing their passion is overwhelming.
The one great change I saw to this year’s Anime Boston was a bristling Video Game room. Touho, ahead of it’s North American release, had hosted six machines to allow fans to try it or show off their skills. There were Katamari tournaments, a constantly running eight player Smash Brothers game (that I truly regret not taking part in) and every one who was playing was having a fantastic time.
Which is a theme to Anime Boston: Everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves. From those screaming fans in the Jojo’s panel, to the groups of Cosplayers doing photoshoots, and even the exhausted bundle of teenage girls laying on top of each other in the mall corridor. Every one looked satisfied. Every one looked like they belonged.
I’ve reviewed and talked about Anime Boston four or five times now. Nothing is too different. It feels like coming home every time I go back. Most of the attendees are awkward teenagers, some of them are scary sexless thirty year olds. But they are my people. They will always be my be my people, no matter how much I believe to have out grown them.